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Technology renders UNC journalism school's spelling test obsolete

The University’s journalism school has officially recognized the power of a spell check.

The School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s spelling and grammar test, a requirement for all students in the school, will no longer include a spelling portion as administrators attempt to adapt to the changing industry.

The school will alter the test in the fall for the first time since the test’s creation in the 1970s, said Chris Roush, senior associate dean in the school.

“What we’re trying to do is just make the exam more relevant for today’s journalism and mass communication students,” Roush said.

The decision to change the test came after a committee of faculty and staff concluded that the presence of computer tools such as spell check made the spelling portion unnecessary, Roush said.

The new exam will consist of two-thirds grammar questions and one-third word choice questions. It will be lengthened to 50 minutes to give students more time to complete the word choice portion of the exam.

Rhonda Gibson, associate professor in the school, said the word choice portion is designed to emphasize problems spell check can’t catch, such as the use of they’re, there and their.

“Spell check can tell you whether ‘their’ is spelled correctly but not if it’s the right word,” she said.

After the 2012-13 school year, the test will no longer be offered as part of the school’s news writing course, Roush said. Instead, students will sign up to take it at the school’s student records office, where it is offered on a weekly basis.

“What we’re trying to do is encourage students to take it earlier in their time here on campus so we don’t have second-semester seniors taking it to graduate,” he said.

Nicole Yang, a senior journalism major, has taken the current version of the test. She said she wished the test had included a word choice section when she took it but said she thinks the spelling section still has merit.

“I feel like as a journalist it’s something you just need to know,” Yang said. “You can’t rely on technology to fix everything for you.”

Melissa Paniagua, a junior journalism major who has yet to complete the test, said she would prefer to take the new version.

“For a few years we’ve already been using spell check anyway,” she said. “That’s not something people had trouble with as much as word choice and AP style.”

Thad Ogburn, metro editor at the (Raleigh) News & Observer and a UNC alumnus, said a basic knowledge of spelling is still an important skill for reporters to have.

“I think it does go to your publication’s credibility,” he said, adding that online and print readers dislike seeing misspelled words.

“I always tell people, ‘Don’t rely on spell check as a crutch.’”

Gibson said replacing the spelling section with word choice would better prepare students for life in the professional world.

“Regardless of what kind of job you get… chances are you’re going to be crafting messages of some sort,” she said.

“It’s not just rote memorization of spelling. I think it’s a better test.”

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