The Writing Task

 

Why was it decided to add a writing task to the Psychometric Entrance Test (PET)?

In academic studies, both reading and writing skills are essential to success. They are distinct but complementary skills. Reading is the primary means for acquiring knowledge and writing is necessary for summarizing and applying the material learned, as well as for developing and expressing new ideas. Good writing skills are also critical to completing the various academic assignments that form the basis for evaluating a student's performance. Reading skills are tested in the Verbal Reasoning domain of the PET, and the new format will place even more emphasis on these skills. Writing skills, on the other hand, have never been tested in the PET. Given the large body of research on the issue and the development of a reliable and valid infrastructure for evaluating these skills, it has been decided to incorporate a writing task into the PET.

The matriculation examinations (Bagrut) already include an essay. Why is there a need for another one?

The PET, including the writing task, makes it possible to use a standardized scale to rank all candidates seeking admission to institutions of higher education. Furthermore, the addition of a writing task to the PET emphasizes the importance that the institutions of higher education place on writing proficiency.

Are all examinees required to complete the writing task?

Yes. Since September 2012, the PET has been administered in the new format – which includes the writing task – to all examinees, including those taking the test in languages other than Hebrew and those taking it with special accommodations.

Is there a separate score for the writing task?

No. The writing task is one of several types of tasks included in the Verbal Reasoning domain. The Verbal Reasoning score will be calculated by weighting the score on the writing task along with the scores obtained on the other tasks in the domain (analogies, reading comprehension, etc.) to obtain a single Verbal Reasoning score.

What weight is given to the writing task in calculating the score for the Verbal Reasoning domain?

The writing task will be worth 25% of the Verbal Reasoning score, while the two multiple-choice sections will have a combined weight of 75%.

What criteria are used to evaluate the writing task?

The writing task consists of an essay which is meant to demonstrate the examinee's capability for theoretical writing. Such writing can be evaluated in terms of several aspects. The evaluation of the PET writing task will focus on two dimensions: content and language. Content will be assessed according to criteria such as relevance to the assigned topic, the degree to which arguments are supported, the extent to which critical thinking is demonstrated, and organization of the essay. Language will be assessed according to criteria such as clarity, the use of a style appropriate to theoretical writing, correct syntax, accuracy of expression, and breadth of vocabulary.

How is the writing task scored?

The writing task will be scored by two different raters, independently of each other. All raters will have been carefully selected and trained at the National Institute for Testing and Evaluation (NITE). Each rater will give two scores, one for content and one for language. Therefore, the score for the writing task will be the sum of four numbers: the scores for content and language submitted by each rater. In situations where there is a significant disparity between the raters' scores, the essay will be evaluated by a third rater. In these cases, the score will be the sum of the two scores given by the third rater and those given by the original rater whose evaluation was closest to his or hers.

People's writing can vary greatly in terms of style and content. How is it possible to compare their writing?

It is true that people have different tastes, styles, opinions, and backgrounds, all of which are reflected in their writing. However, good theoretical writing should meet the criteria listed above, regardless of such differences. The writing task will be evaluated objectively and fairly, so that an examinee's score will indicate his or her ability to complete a theoretical essay, and will not be affected by any other considerations.

Is it possible to type the essay using a computer? Is it possible to write a first draft?

For now, the essays will be handwritten and the examinees will use a pencil, as they do when filling out the answer sheet for the multiple-choice questions. The examinees will write their essays on lined paper provided for this purpose. There is plenty of space to write a draft in the test booklet. Only examinees who are eligible for special accommodations and whose test conditions include permission to use a computer will be permitted to type the essay. In another few years, once the entire PET is computerized, all examinees will be able to type their essays.

In which languages may I complete the writing task?

Examinees are required to complete the writing task in the language of the test for which they are registered and which they are taking. If the test is in Hebrew, the writing task must be completed in Hebrew; if the test is in Arabic, the writing task must be completed in Arabic; if the test is in Russian, the writing task must be completed in Russian; and so forth. Examinees who take the Combined/English test may complete the writing task in any of the languages which appear in that version of the test, namely English, Hebrew, Russian, German, Italian, Hungarian, Amharic, Portuguese, and Dutch.

Examinees who complete the writing task in a language other than the one in which they are being tested will have their essays invalidated and will receive the lowest possible score on the writing task.

What is the scope of the writing task? Is it restricted in any way?

Examinees' essays must be at least 25 lines long. Examinees will be given answer sheets consisting of 50 lines. They must limit their essays to those 50 lines and cannot receive a second sheet of paper. It is NITE’s experience that, given the time allotted for the writing task, a good essay is generally 30-40 lines long.

Where can I find sample writing tasks?

The Guide for Examinees presents a practice writing task. The Guide also presents an additional task together with several sample essays written in response to the task, as well as evaluations of the essays and explanations of the evaluations. In addition, the criteria for scoring the essays have been published, together with examples and explanations.

Writing tasks also appear in tests that have been posted on the NITE website since September 2012.

How can I prepare for the writing task?

Writing ability, like the other skills measured by the PET, develops gradually over time and is influenced by classroom learning, reading, and ongoing practice. Thus, much of the groundwork for the writing task has already been laid in one's elementary and high school years and in various life experiences. Although the best preparation is to work steadily over many years, some focused effort and practice prior to the test can improve one's performance. It is important to be familiar with the instructions for the writing task, and it is recommended that examinees complete the practice tasks and carefully read the explanations provided.

Can examinees choose from among a few writing topics?

No. Studies have shown that the process of choosing one task from among several writing tasks is time consuming, thereby reducing the amount of time left to actually complete the task. Also, a comparison of examinees who have written on different topics would be less accurate. NITE believes that the disadvantages of giving examinees a choice of topics for the writing task outweigh the benefits, and so only one topic will be offered.

Why isn't there more time allotted for the writing task? The amount of time allotted will prevent me from properly demonstrating my writing ability.

Research into examinee performance on writing tasks has found that indeed, given more time, examinees wrote better essays and their average scores are slightly higher. However, it was also found that the rank order of scores does not change when more time is provided.

In determining the amount of time to be allotted for the writing task, a key consideration was making sure that the PET, as a whole, not be too long. Certainly, in scoring the writing tasks, the raters will take into account the limited time allotted to the examinees for this part of the test.

I took the PET in its previous format. If I wish to apply to an academic institution in the future, e.g., for the 2013-14 school year, do I need to take the test again?

No. The scores for the test in the previous format will be comparable to scores for the test in the new format, and so there is no need to retake the exam.

I am interested in pursuing studies in the natural sciences or in one of the engineering disciplines. Why should I be required to complete the writing task when it will not be relevant to my university studies?

It is true that the degree to which the three PET domains (Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and English) are relevant to various academic fields can differ greatly. Nonetheless, all of the abilities being tested, and writing ability in particular, are relevant to academic study in any field. There is a consensus among institutions of higher education that the ability to express an idea in writing is relevant to all graduates, including those who earn degrees in the natural sciences or engineering.

 

General Scores as of October 2011

 

As of October 2011, NITE calculates three General Scores:

  • A Multi-Domain General Score in which the weight of the scores in the Verbal Reasoning and Qualitative Reasoning domains are double that of the score in the English domain.
  • A Humanities-Oriented Score, in which the score in the Verbal Reasoning domain is three times the weight of each of the other two scores.
  • A Sciences-Oriented Score, in which the score in the Qualitative Reasoning domain is three times the weight of each of the other two scores.

 

Why are additional General Scores being calculated?

The extent to which each of the PET domains (Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and English) is relevant to academic studies depends on the course of study being pursued. In sciences-oriented departments (mathematics and physics, for example) the Quantitative Reasoning domain is much more relevant than it is in humanities-oriented departments such as literature or history. For other departments or faculties, such as law, the Verbal Reasoning domain is much more relevant.

Will the new General Scores be used by universities as the basis for admissions? In which departments will the Humanities-Oriented Score be used as the basis for admission and in which will the Sciences-Oriented Score be used?

All decisions regarding the admission of candidates are the sole responsibility of the institutions of higher education (universities and colleges). Each institution determines which scores it will use in its admissions process and what weight is given to each score. It should be noted that, as in the past, it is still the case today that the institutions of higher education can give each of the PET domains a weight different than that given by NITE in the General Scores it reports.

All the institutions that receive PET scores from NITE can be provided, upon request, with the information needed to use the new scores.

Can I receive the new General Scores even if I took the test before the format was changed?

Yes. The new – or additional – General Scores will be calculated for anyone who took the PET from September 1991 onward. Examinees can see their new scores by logging onto the NITE website.

Is the PET in the new format more difficult than it was in the previous format?

The PET's level of difficulty will remain the same. The score for the test in the new format will be comparable to the score for the test in the previous format.