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Study on Freshman and Junior Awareness of Contemporary Affairs



Study on Freshman and Junior Awareness of Contemporary Affairs


This report addresses the level of awareness of incoming Freshmen and Juniors at Queens College in the year 1940, as determined by a standardized test. The study was conducted as a means of determining how Queens students related to college students in the United States as a whole, and the effectiveness of the Queens education. (Selections - full volume available from Queens College archives)


Students--United States--Case studies
Queens College (New York, N.Y.)


Rivlin, Harry N.




Queens College Department of Special Collections and Archives (New York, N.Y.)




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Queens College (New York, N.Y.)



From a Report by the Committee on Evaluation*

Part I. The Purpose and the Plan of the Study.

One of the reasonable outcomes of a college education is a growing interest in the world about the student so that he may be increasingly well-informed of current happenings. Without such a background he is not prepared to interpret their significance.
In a partial attempt at measuring the extent to which Queens College has succeeded in attaining this objective, we administered the Cooperative Contemporary Affairs Test, Form 1939, to the entering Freshmen and to the Junior class in September, 1939. Neither group of students expected this test.
The Cooperative Contemporary Affairs Test is a standardized test of information of recent happenings in the fields of 1. Political Events, 2. Social and Economic Events, 3. Science and Medicine, 4. Contemporary Literature, 5. Fine Arts, and 6. Amusements. The norms for the test are published for each part of the test separately and for the test as a whole. In this way, we can make a comparative evaluation of our students with respect to their knowledge of current developments in each of these fields.

* A copy of the complete report from which this abstract is taken is on file in the Library.


All of the questions asked are factual and do not involve evaluation or judgment. The test is composed exclusively of multiple-choice questions. The nature of these questions is indicated by the following item, which is included in the section on Political Events.

#62. The little town of Berchtesgaden was the center of world-wide interest in September, 1938, because it was the scene of
1 the great Nazi Party congress.
2 Hitler's famous "victory through conquest" speech.
3 Chamberlain's personal visit and proposals to Hitler.
4 Kurt von Schuschnigg's trial at which he was found guilty of treason.
5 Hitler's solemn disavowal of further territorial ambition in Europe...( )

Since this is solely an information test, it does not measure the students' ability to understand current events or to evaluate their significance. We do not regard this as a serious limitation because these phases of understanding are covered adequately in the Comprehensive Examination in Contemporary Civilization and the Comprehensive Examination in Literature and the Arts. Both Comprehensive Examinations are administered to Juniors when they complete the required course in these fields.
A feature of the Cooperative Contemporary Affairs Test is its inclusion of a section on Amusements, dealing with the radio, movies, and sports. Inasmuch as the contents of this section are not studied directly in any major college course, the scores on this section can be used as a basis for evaluating the scores on the other sections. Thus, if the Juniors are as superior in Amusements as they are in the other sections, we are probably not justified in attributing their greater information on contemporary affairs chiefly to the influence of their college courses.


On the other hand, if the Juniors prove to be superior on all the sections of the test except Amusements, we can examine the test results to see whether the gains can be attributed to the work done at the College.
We hoped that the administration of the test and the examination of the results would help us to answer the following questions:
1. How well-informed are our Freshmen when compared with American college students in general?
2. How well-informed are our Juniors when compared with American college students in general?
3. In which fields are our students well-informed or poorly informed?
4. Are our Juniors superior to our Freshmen in their information on current events?
5. Do the scores attained by the Juniors indicate that the College has accomplished as much as the intelligence ranking of its students and the informational background of its entering classes promise?
6. Are the Juniors superior only in the sections of the test which are directly related to the courses our students have taken at college, or are they equally superior in the Amusement section, which is not directly related to the courses our students have taken at college?
7. How do our superior Freshmen compare with our Juniors in their knowledge of contemporary affairs?


Because of the time that must elapse between the selection of the items for inclusion in a standardized test and the final publication of the test, the questions on this test refer to incidents that occurred during 1938 and the spring of 1939. Four our purposes, this time lag is an advantage rather than a limitation, since it discounts the influence of the information that comes from a casual reading of the daily papers. Moreover, the mere passage of time makes these questions more difficult for our students than they were for the groups that took these tests at a time when the items were more recent, and on whose results the norms are based. If the Queens College test results are superior to the norms, this superiority becomes increasingly significant when the lapse of time is considered.

Part II. Summary of Results on the Cooperative Contemporary Affairs Test

1. The average for the Juniors for the test as a whole is 9.7 points higher than the average for the Freshmen. The difference between the two means is least in the section on Amusements, where the Juniors' average is only 0.6 points better than that of the Freshmen. The Juniors' superiority over the Freshmen is greatest in Fine Arts (a difference of 2.8 points) and Contemporary Literature (a difference of 2.1 points). Of the five major sections of the test, the superiority of the Juniors is least marked in the section on Political Events (a difference of 1.2 points). (See Table I, below, and Item 1, on page 4 of the original report, for the results on all sections of the test.)

Part III. Recommendations

Although the results of this test are gratifying in that they indicate that our Freshmen and our Juniors are better informed on current events than are American college students in general, and that the two years of work at Queens College have affected both the degree and the character of our Juniors' superiority, several recommendations follow from an interpretation of these test results.
I. We should consider the advisability of informing the principals of Queens high school of the results attained by Freshmen, in order to see whether the secondary school courses in social studies can be modified so that future entering classes will be as well-informed on political, social and economic events as they are of recent developments in other fields.
II. We ought to explain these test results in order to see whether there is anything we can do to increase the superiority of our Junior class. Such an analysis of test results may be especially valuable in those fields where our Juniors are probably not so superior to our Freshmen and to American college students in general as they should be.
III. We should make an error count in order to discover which items on the test proved difficult for our students. When we know the specific questions on which our students did poorly, we shall be in a better position to plan a remedial program.
IV. We should study the individual records of those students who did poorly on this test in order to see whether individualized remedial programs are necessary or feasible.


V. Some of our Freshman scores are so high that we ought to explore the possibilities of excusing the exceptional Freshman from some of the basic required courses. Most of the provisions that American colleges make for superior students are directed to upper classmen. It is likely that some of our best Freshmen are as well equipped to enter elective courses as are some of our Juniors. We must be prepared to study the question of whether their college career will be more valuable to them if they pursue the program of required work or whether they will gain more by taking advanced work earlier in their college course.
The present report merely raises the question; it does not present adequate data for answering it. The placement tests used by the various departments may be a source of pertinent information. We may also receive some help from an analysis of the results of the Comprehensive Examination in Literature and the Arts, and the Comprehensive Examination in Contemporary Civilization.
We invited our fifteen best Freshmen, as judged by their high school records, to take these Comprehensive examinations. Since the Comprehensive Examinations are power tests rather than purely factual tests, we shall soon be in a better position to compare the background of our best Freshmen with that of our Juniors.
VI. If a comparable form of the Cooperative Contemporary Affairs Test Test is prepared by the American Council on Education in 1941, we should administer it to the present Freshmen, who will be Juniors in September, 1941. In that way we shall be able to evaluate directly the influence of two years at Queens College on a student's awareness of developments in the world about him.

Respectfully submitted,
Harry N. Rivlin
Chairman, Committee on Evaluation

February 10, 1940

Original Format

8.5 x 11 inches (216 x 279 mm)



Rivlin, Harry N., “Study on Freshman and Junior Awareness of Contemporary Affairs,” Queens College Archives and Special Collections, accessed May 25, 2019,