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By Commander A. H. Rooks, U. S. Navy
Thayer's Note: This article was written in 1935 and is therefore of purely historical (and academic) interest, the conditions and the law having changed repeatedly since then, and being likely to continue evolving. If you are seeking to apply for admission to the Naval Academy, you should follow the procedure indicated on the Naval Academy website.
There are thousands of youths in the United States to whom the Naval Academy makes the strongest emotional appeal of their young lives. If their parents are unable to answer their questions concerning it, as is often the case, they are likely to write a letter to the Superintendent in the following somewhat naïve but appealing vein:
Dear Sir: I am sorry to bother you, for I know you are a busy man, but please take time to consider my letter seriously.
As far back as I can remember, my one ambition has been to enter Annapolis and become a naval officer.
I am 16 years of age, weigh 170 pounds, and am 5 feet 11¼ inches tall. I am a regular end on my high-school football team, and do the punting and kickoffs. I am a regular guard on the varsity quint, and on the track run the low hurdles, 440, 220, and relays. My average so far in school is over 90. I am a First Class Scout. I love the water and have been in and on it a great deal.
I have written the above on the advice of my high-school teachers and not to be boastful. I hope you can help me get to Annapolis. Does one gain entrance through competitive examinations, by "pull" with some congressman, through early application, or how?
Please tell me what studies I should take in high school.
. . . . . . .
Needless to say, the Academy would be delighted to have the writer of that letter as one of its students. It is glad to advise him as to his course of studies, and how to prepare for the entrance examinations, but it is forced to tell him that it can do nothing to get him an appointment. That is a matter which is, with certain exceptions described below, entirely in the hands of the members of Congress, and the Academy can only advise the young aspirant for a naval career to apply to the senators from his state or the congressman from his district.
Midshipmen are appointed to the Naval Academy after being nominated from one of the sources described below and after meeting all of the entrance requirements prescribed in the Regulations Governing Admission to the U. S. Naval Academy, issued by the Secretary of the Navy.
The statutes prescribe that 5 midshipmen are allowed for each senator, representative, and delegate in Congress, and for the Vice-President; 5 for the District of Columbia; and 15 each year from the United States at large. The appointments from the District of Columbia and from the United States at large are made by the President. It is the custom of the President to give the appointments of midshipmen at large to the sons of officers and of enlisted men of the regular Army, Navy, and Marine Corps.
The statutes also authorize the appointment of 100 enlisted men of the U. S. Navy and U. S. Marine Corps each year to be selected as a result of a competitive examination. These men must have served at least one year in the Navy or Marine Corps by July 1 of the year of entry and those from the Navy must have served aboard a vessel of the Navy in full commission for at least nine months prior to admission. The mental and physical requirements for these candidates are the same as for all others.
The law further authorizes the appointment of 25 midshipmen each year by competitive examination from among the enlisted men of the Naval Reserve and the Marine Corps Reserve. These men must have been in the Reserve at least one p1469 year by July 1 of the year in which appointed. They must have maintained efficiency by attending at least 27 drills with a division of the Fleet Naval Reserve in either class V‑1 or F‑1 between July 1 of the year preceding appointment and the third Wednesday in April, which is the date of the mental examination for admission. They must also have a good record and must be recommended by their commanding officers.
The Act of Congress approved June 8, 1926, authorized the appointment by the President of 40 midshipmen from the United States at large from among the sons of officers, soldiers, sailors, and marines of the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps who were killed in action or died prior to July 2, 1921, of wounds or injuries received or disease contracted in line of duty during the World War.
One midshipman may be appointed from Puerto Rico by the President on the recommendation of the Governor, and 4 midshipmen on the nomination of the Resident Commissioner. Finally, 4 Filipinos (one for each Naval Academy class) may be designated by the Governor General of the Philippines, with the restriction that they will not be entitled to appointment to any commissioned office in the United States Navy by reason of their graduation from the U. S. Naval Academy.
At the present writing (July, 1935) there is a bill (H. R. 7486) pending in Congress to authorize the Secretary of the Navy to appoint 20 midshipmen annually from among the honor graduates of educational institutions which are designated "honor schools" by the War Department and the members of the Naval Reserve Officers' Training Corps. The Navy maintains such corps at the following institutions: Harvard, Yale, Georgia Institute of Technology, Northwestern, University of Washington, and University of California.
Although the basic law provides for the appointment of 5 midshipmen for each member of Congress, this number is varied from year to year, to meet the needs of the Navy, by restricting the money available for their pay in the annual Naval Appropriation Bill. Five appointments were authorized from 1918 to 1923, inclusive; three appointments from 1924 to 1927; four appointments from 1928 to 1931, and three appointments from 1932 to 1934. In 1935, because of the building up of the Navy to treaty strength, the number of appointments was increased to four, and it is probable that it will be increased to five for the class entering in 1936.
Members of Congress are entitled to nominate a principal and three alternates. Should the principal fail on the entrance examinations and one of the alternates pass, the latter receives the appointment. Many members of Congress make their appointments outright from among their acquaintances in their districts. Others simply nominate four candidates without designating a principal and prescribe that the one making the highest marks on the entrance examinations shall receive the appointment. In such cases the candidates are required to take the regular entrance examinations described hereafter in this article. Others make their designations as a result of competitive examinations conducted at their request by the United States Civil Service Commission. The Naval Academy has nothing whatever to do with these competitive examinations; they are handled entirely by the congressmen and the Civil Service Commissions. It is said that frequently from 150 to 200 candidates appear at the competitive examinations for one appointment.
The Superintendent has on several occasions been consulted by members of Congress relative to the advisability of selecting appointees wholly by competitive mental examinations, and he p1470 has expressed the following opinion:
Competitive examinations tend to place a premium on cramming, so that it is frequently observed that the candidate who attains the highest mark is not as promising material as others who fall below him slightly, but manifestly excel in other qualities. It has been suggested that the examiners be requested to grade the candidates into A and B classes, etc., class A to mean a performance on mental examination indicative of fairly equal ability of those included therein, with the appointing powers free to make their selections from this list after a personal interview and inquiry as to character, personality, and background.
The law prescribes that candidates must be citizens of the United States and must be not less than 16 years of age nor more than 20 on April 1 of the calendar year in which they enter. The Academy sometimes receives suggestions from members of Congress and others that the age limits be raised to 17‑22 to correspond with those of West Point, or for other reasons, among them an increase in the power of the football team! A study of this subject disclosed that the average age of entering classes is 18 years 8 months, which is almost exactly the average age of those entering the high grade colleges and engineering schools. The average age of the class entering in 1934 was 18 years 11 months, a slight and unexplained increase over that of the past ten years. In that class there were only two midshipmen who were 16 years of age as of January 1 of their entering year, and 202 out of a total of 607 were over 19 as of January 1. A comparison of academic standings with age groups in the classes of 1922 to 1929, inclusive, disclosed the interesting facts shown in the accompanying table, based on a total number of 5,755 in these classes.
This study shows, quite unexpectedly perhaps, that the younger age groups are superior to the older groups academically. They stand higher in their classes and they do not "bilge" in such large numbers. A possible explanation is that the men who are able to acquire the credits and pass the examinations at the younger ages are above the average mentally. They are brighter, quicker, more adaptable, than the average. However, it does not necessarily follow that they have the maturity, physical and mental, to get the full benefits of all the activities of the Academy, and many prefer to wait until they are at least 17 before entering. In view of all the facts, the Academy believes that the age limits are correct.
Before describing the mental entrance requirements now in effect, a brief account will be given of their historical background. When the Academy was founded in 1845, candidates for midshipmen were required to report before the Academic Board for examination to prove their mental capacity. These examinations were elementary as to subject and simple in character. The regulations from 1845 to 1862 stated that the candidates
must be of good moral character, able to read and write well — writing from dictation and spelling with correction — and to perform with accuracy the various operations of the primary rules of arithmetic, . . .
From 1863 to 1882, candidates were examined in reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, geography, and English grammar. In 1883, history and algebra were added. In 1899, history was divided into two subjects, United States history and world's history, and plane geometry was added. From 1907 to 1919, inclusive, the examinations comprised English (spelling, p1471 grammar, and punctuation), geography, United States history, world's history, arithmetic, algebra, and plane geometry. Although the subject matter remained fairly elementary, the examinations became more and more searching and difficult for the ordinary students of the secondary school systems of the country as a whole, and the young men were driven into the special preparatory or coaching schools in increasing numbers. College and high-school students, to pass the examinations, were forced to drop their regular work and make an intensive review of their early high-school and elementary school subjects in order to qualify. The examinations covered practically none of the subjects usually taught in the last two years of the secondary schools. Because of the unwillingness or inability of many candidates to attend the special preparatory schools, the Academy undoubtedly lost a great deal of the best qualified material, and there were many in each class who, through assiduous cramming, entered upon the increasingly arduous academic course with more sand than bricks upon which to build.
Moreover, the technological advance of the last half-century had forced the expansion of the course to the elastic limit, with advanced subjects demanding a place in the curriculum for which there was no room. Some were slipped in piecemeal, but in 1916 it became evident that the Academy was behind the times as to entrance requirements and that no further advance could be made until these were revised. At that time the entrance examinations covered but 4½ units which would be credited by the College Entrance Examination Board, which sets the standard for the colleges as a whole, while most colleges required from 14 to 16 units. In 1917, the Academic Board reported on the matter and found the entrance requirements faulty because they were too special, that is, they did not fit in with the work of the secondary schools and, therefore, put a premium on the cramming schools. The Board found that arithmetic and grammar, for example, were relics of an earlier day when only a common-school education was required, and candidates were much younger than at that time. In the opinion of the Board, also, the requirements fell below the standard set by the engineering and technical schools of the country. Since a midshipman must cover a wider range of subjects than in the ordinary civil institution, since he must qualify not only as a navigator and seaman but also as a mechanical, electrical, and ordnance engineer, his previous education should be at least equal to what is required by a high-grade civilian school of engineering. The Board drew up a formal proposal for the adoption of the Harvard plan of secondary school certificate and comprehensive examination. Under this plan the candidate demonstrates the quantity of his preparation by the certificate, and the quality by passing substantiating examinations in certain subjects, the examinations being designed to test the candidate's general knowledge of a given subject and his intellectual power, not to ascertain whether he has mastered a prescribed book or course. The Board recommended examinations in elementary algebra, plane geometry, solid geometry, English grammar and composition, and American history and civil government. However, the Navy Department did not approve, probably because of conditions incident to the war.
In 1920, it happened that there were a large number of vacancies at the Academy and that it was desirable to fill them rapidly. Thus do important reforms frequently wait, not upon logic, but upon time and circumstance! The Department decided to admit candidates in 1920 and 1921 without examination provided they could present acceptable certificates from colleges, universities, technological schools, p1472 preparatory schools, and high schools. Fourteen units were required, of which 8 were mandatory and 6 were optional. Candidates who were able to present certificates or who were required to compete for appointments could take the regular examinations, which remained the same in character as before.
Admission by certificate only, without examination, was continued through 1924. In that year 15 secondary school units were prescribed, 10 being required and 5 optional. The required units consisted of 3 in mathematics, 3 in English, 1 in history, 1 in languages, and 1 in science, with 1 more to be made up from an additional unit in higher mathematics or history. Although the certificate method was felt to be sound in principle, in that it should bring into the Academy young men of a broader general education than had been true in the past, some disturbing features were disclosed as the classes admitted by that method passed through the course. From 1920 to 1924, inclusive, 1,662 midshipmen were admitted by certificate, of whom 662, or 39.7 per cent dropped out before graduation. In that same period 1,769 were admitted by examination, of whom 592, or 33.5 per cent failed to graduate. Moreover, it was noted that the certificate men were segregated to a certain degree at the tops and bottoms of the classes; there were among them many excellent students, and many poor ones. The explanation was assumed to be that the Academy received certificates from schools of varying quality in every congressional district of the United States, and that many young men were able to obtain good certificates who in reality had poor foundations. The system was deemed to be sound, but required some steps to eliminate the poor risks.
This result probably could have been achieved in time by the penalty system then in force against those schools which contributed the failures, but it would have been a slow and expensive process. Accordingly, for the class entering in 1924, a modification of the so‑called Harvard plan was adopted. The certificate men were required to substantiate their certificates by comprehensive examinations in English and mathematics. It was believed that examinations in these subjects, lasting about three hours each, would establish with reasonable assurance whether or not the certificates could be accepted at their face value. Results proved the soundness of the new plan. From 1925 to 1930, inclusive, a total of 2,042 men were admitted by certificate and substantiating examination, of whom 498, or 24.4 per cent failed to graduate, while during that period 1,310 men were admitted by examination, of whom 455 or 34.7 per cent did not graduate.
In the meantime the regular entrance examinations had been altered in character and scope. For admission to the class entering in 1923 the following examinations were prescribed:
English (punctuation, spelling, grammar, composition and literature)
United States history
Algebra (through quadratics including the progressions and the binomial theorem)
Plane geometry (five books of Chauvenet's)
One language (French, Spanish, or Latin)
One science (physics, chemistry, or general science).
These examinations amounted to 11 credits instead of the 4½ credits of previous years and were a distinct advance. They were further modified in 1925 to the following:
English (punctuation, spelling, grammar, composition and literature)
United States history
Algebra (through quadratics and the progressions and binomial theorem)
Plane geometry (five books of Chauvenet's or equivalent)
Physics (one year's work).
p1473 No further important changes have been made in the certificate or regular examination methods of entrance except the modification permitting entry by college certificate, which will be described later. The authorities of the Academy believe that the certificate substantiating-examination method is far superior to the regular examination method because the candidates must be graduates of secondary schools whose certificates show proficiency in 9 required subjects and 6 optional subjects while, by regular examination, a candidate with less than three years of high-school work may qualify after cramming in a coaching school. It would be desirable to require all midshipmen to enter by certificate, but this is impossible at the present time because many of the appointments are competitive, as the Presidential, the enlisted men, naval reserves, etc., and require regular examinations. At the present time certificates are scrutinized with great care and it is probable that few if any colleges demand higher standards for entrance than the Academy. By far the larger number of certificates accepted are from candidates standing in the upper half of their classes in secondary schools, and a majority in the first quarter.
The reader will have noted that the examinations for 1923 and 1924 included a language (French, Spanish, or Latin). If continued and Latin had been eliminated, it would have been possible to begin the language courses at the Academy on a higher level and develop graduates better qualified in French or Spanish. However, the Secretary of the Navy, in the summer of 1924, ordered that all language requirements be eliminated. The Department's attitude on this subject was that the nature of the Academy is such that it should be open to young men of all walks of life, provided they have the requisite qualifications for officer material and that, drawing from each congressional district as it does, it should not require a language qualification when there are many secondary schools where French or Spanish are not taught. In 1931, the Superintendent again proposed the inclusion of a language requirement, as well as one in solid geometry, but without success. It was pointed out at that time that 80 per cent of the secondary schools of the country offered liberal opportunities for the study of French, Spanish, German, or Italian, and that the best-grade liberal and engineering colleges, including many of the state colleges, had language qualifications for entrance. Furthermore, of the 593 men entering in 1931 only 20 per cent had had no languages, so that the language course at the Academy must start from zero for the benefit of this small minority. Practically the same arguments were used for the inclusion of solid geometry. However, the Department again deemed the change inadvisable in view of the possibility that it would incur the active opposition of certain members of Congress. The Academic Board is still of the opinion that the inclusion of these subjects in the entrance requirements is indicated and would permit a desirable revision of the course. This view is substantiated by the Board of Visitors for 1934, which stated:
From many points of view it would be desirable to require from all applicants for admission at least one year of a modern language and also proper credit in solid geometry.
When the substantiating examinations were first started in 1925, it was expected that they would not require special preparation, but would be taken by the secondary-school senior in his stride. It was found that this was true of the product of the best schools only. It was immediately apparent that the Academic Board had over-rated the capacity of the high-school graduates over the country as a whole to demonstrate their knowledge in a comprehensive examination. In 1925 the substantiating p1474 examination standards were so adjusted that approximately 75 per cent of the candidates passed. Further experience with those candidates and with the academic performance of those admitted caused a tautening of the standards. In 1926, 65 per cent passed, and in 1927, 52 per cent. The substantiating examinations were still not as difficult as the regular examinations, in which only about 29 per cent were successful at that time. By 1933, the percentages of successes were down to 25 per cent in the regular examinations, and to 31 per cent in the substantiating examinations. The increased difficulty of the entrance examinations was reflected in a slight reduction in the academic failures. But it was evident that candidates to be successful required more than the ordinary high school was giving them.
The following table shows the results of a study of the special preparations made by the members of the class who entered the Academy in 1934:
|Class of 1934||
Per cent passed
Per cent passed as result
In other words, 92.5 per cent of those successful in the regular examinations and 86 per cent in the substantiating examinations had had more preparation than the high schools afforded, either in college work, in special preparatory schools, or by tutoring or postgraduate work.
The studies further disclosed that 44 per cent of those entering by the substantiating examinations had been in college prior to entry into the Academy, and that more than half of these young men had considered it necessary to leave college in order to make special preparations for the entrance examinations, either by attending the special preparatory schools or by tutoring. In personal interviews with candidates and their families, it was brought to the attention of the authorities of the Academy that the decision to leave college in order to prepare for the examinations was frequently a difficult one for the candidates to make, and put many of them in a serious dilemma, particularly if they were not principal appointees. Most of them desired to continue their college courses, if not finally admitted to the Academy, and did not desire to ruin the current year's work by leaving. On the other hand, many of them would have inevitably failed without special preparation, because they were in most cases two or three years away from the algebra and geometry studied in secondary school, even though the quality of their college work indicated that they were fully capable of successfully pursuing the course at the Naval Academy. It was the opinion of the Academic Board that it was unwise to force candidates to leave college under these circumstances, not only from the point of view of the personal loss to the candidates themselves, but also from that of the Naval Academy. It was felt that the successful completion of a year's college work should be a better preparation for entering upon the work of the Naval Academy than the passing of a short but admittedly difficult examination after a considerable period spent in cramming secondary school subjects. Furthermore, a study of the academic performances of the classes of 1932 and 1933 disclosed that the college men as a group were more successful in completing the course than were the non‑college men and stood somewhat higher in their class. In these two classes approximately 22 per cent of the non‑college men failed academically, whereas only 11 per cent of the college men failed.
p1475 On the basis of these facts, the Secretary of the Navy authorized as an experiment a change in the entrance regulations to permit the entry without mental examination of a candidate who presents a properly attested certificate that he is or has been a regularly enrolled student in good standing in a university, college, or technical school accredited by the Academy, provided that:
(a) The entrance requirements of the course pursued in college include the fifteen secondary school units described under the certificate-substantiating examination below, or failing this, extra college credits are presented in these subjects.
(b) At the time of entry he shall have satisfactorily completed a year's work in the university, college, or technical school, with a minimum of twenty-four semester hours credit in English, natural science, social science, or languages, at least six of which shall be in college English or history and six in college mathematics.
The Academy does not maintain a restricted list of accredited colleges and technical schools. It accredits, for certificate purposes, any of the junior colleges, colleges, universities, and technical schools of collegiate rank that are unqualifiedly accredited by the various state boards of education, or by any of the recognized accrediting agencies such as the Association of American Universities, the New England Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, etc. If in doubt as to the accredited status of an institution, a specific inquiry should be addressed to the Academy.
If the college certificate shows low or barely passing grades, the candidate will not be admitted by this method, but must qualify mentally by examination. For the year 1935, the Academic Board has prescribed that college marks must be at least one step above the institution's passing grade. For example, if grades are assigned by letter, with "D" the passing grade, the candidate's marks must be "C" or better. However, consideration is sometimes shown where a candidate has a "D" for the first term and a "C" for the second, if his other marks are high.
As noted previously, this method is new and experimental. The first midshipman to enter under this plan did so in the summer of 1935. If midshipmen admitted from this source show an inordinate number of failures, it may become necessary to require higher marks than "C" on certificates, or certain institutions whose students consistently fail may have individual penalties applied.
The entrance examinations, both regular and substantiating, usually take place on the third Wednesdays of February and April, while college terms usually end in June. It is not required that the candidate shall have earned his college credits prior to the entrance examinations. However, it must be borne in mind that a failure to meet the required grades at the end of the second college term will preclude the candidate's admission for that year, as special examinations cannot be held for the benefit of these failures. Obviously, it would be advantageous to such candidates if the April examinations could be delayed until some time in June or July, but this would cause an undesirable delay in the admission of the new class and seriously curtail "plebe" summer. It is, therefore, entirely the responsibility of the candidate to decide whether to take either of the mental examinations. To assist him in his decision, the Academy advises him to submit certificates at the end of his first college term, together with a statement of the courses he proposes to pursue during the second term, as this permits an informal review and an opinion as to whether or not there is a favorable outlook for acceptance of the final certificate to be submitted at the end of the year. It is important for candidates to understand also that failure on a regular or substantiating examination automatically invalidates the certificates for that year, and they can p1476 only be revalidated by an acceptable review of the failed subjects in a regular school course or by successful work in advanced branches of those subjects.
College certificates will not be accepted in cases where the candidates have been out of college more than one year, unless the record shows them to have been exceptional students. The Academy believes that in such cases the candidates have probably forgotten much of the subject matter and have lost the habit of study, and should be required to demonstrate their knowledge by an examination.
Critics of the plan point out that West Point's experience in admitting college men without examination has not been particularly happy from an academic point of view. But it does not necessarily follow that the Naval Academy will have the same experience, because the regulations for admission by this method are more stringent than at West Point. At the Military Academy the candidate must have completed only one semester's work and there are no regulations covering the subjects taken, whereas at the Naval Academy a full year's work is required and the extent and subject matter of the course are prescribed. Incidentally, a year's work at most colleges comprises from 30 to 32 semester hours, and it will have been noted that the Academy requires a minimum of 24. The latter figure was arrived at after consultation with a number of college heads. Most colleges require and give credit for courses in physical and military training, and the denominational colleges in Biblical and religious subjects. The Academy did not wish to interfere with the requirements of the individual colleges in these respects, so fixed on what was considered a proper minimum of strictly academic credits.
A brief description will now be given of the methods of entry by the regular examinations and by certificate and substantiating examinations.
The majority of candidates now take only the substantiating examinations but, as noted before, in some cases the appointing powers sometimes require their candidates to take the regular examinations in competition. All candidates from the purely competitive sources, such as the Presidential appointees, those from the Navy and Marine Corps, and those from the Reserve, must take the regular examinations. Any other candidates unable to submit an acceptable certificate or whose certificates have been invalidated through previous failure must also take them. Deficiency in any one of the subjects may be sufficient to insure the rejection of the candidate. Marking is on a scale of 4.0 to 0.0, with 2.5 passing.
Candidates who are attempting to enter by certificate and substantiating examination must show evidence of proficiency in 9 units of required subjects and 6 units of optional subjects.
The certificate must show that the candidate has graduated from an accredited secondary school; one showing graduation at an irregular date will be rejected. Marks must be above the school's minimum for passing. The general requirement is that marks, to be acceptable, must be one step above the passing mark. A penalty system is in effect whereby failures by midshipmen the standard of certification from the schools concerned:
(a) Where two or more candidates have entered from any one school, and all have failed during their respective fourth-class years, 10 per cent will be added to the required certification grade from that school.
(b) Where 66⅔ per cent have failed, 8 per cent will be added to the required certification grade.
(c) Where 50 per cent have failed, 5 per cent will be added to the certification grade.
(d) No additions will be made for less than 50 per cent of failures until at least six candidates have failed from any one school, then 5 per cent will be added for 33⅓ per cent of failures.
p1477 (e) No penalty applies to any school until at least two failures from that school have occurred.
Failures believed by the Academic Board to be due to discontent or to reasons other than scholastic will be disregarded in applying the above. The list of schools so penalized is corrected at the close of each academic year.
If a candidate who submits a certificate has already failed in a regular or substantiating examination, he will not receive credit in any subject in which he failed unless he shows evidence of having made up the deficiency by subsequent review or advanced work in an accredited secondary school or college. For this reason, it is inadvisable for poorly prepared candidates to attempt the examinations merely as a "trial run," as some do.
If the candidate is in his last year of high school and will not have the necessary 13 units for acceptance until the completion of the year, it is the policy of the Academic Board to render an informal opinion as to whether outlook for eventual acceptance is favorable or unfavorable. In this event the certificate form should be made out and submitted, giving record of completed work and indicating clearly the subjects that are still being pursued, together with an average of the marks assigned in each subject in course at the time of the submission of the certificate. A supplementary form will be provided upon which the final marks for subjects in course and evidence of graduation may be submitted at the time of graduation.
In addition to presenting an acceptable certificate, the candidate must pass substantiating examinations in scope as follows:
Mathematics. — Two units of algebra, through quadratics and beyond, including the binomial theorem, and arithmetic and geometric progressions; one unit of plane geometry.
English. — The substantiating examination in English presupposes that the candidate has already had three or more years of English composition and literature. In his writing, whether he draws upon his own experience and observation or discusses literature, the examination seeks to test his ability to use good English; scrutiny will be give to the structure of the whole, paragraphing, sentences, choice of words, punctuation, and spelling. Questions in literature will be asked to test his knowledge of books of recognized excellence which he has studied, as well as his ability to read with understanding a short selection of prose or verse which presumably he has not seen before.
Sample examination papers, both regular and substantiating, are included in the pamphlet Regulations Governing the Admission of Candidates into the United States Naval Academy as Midshipmen, copies of which may be obtained by writing to the Bureau of Navigation, Navy Department, Washington, D. C. As an evidence of the widespread interest, an edition of 27,000 copies of this pamphlet published in May, 1934, was exhausted in less than a year.
Criticisms are sometimes made of the difficulty of the Naval Academy entrance examinations. For example, the following colloquy is quoted from the Congressional Record of June 18, 1934:
Mr. Green: Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent to proceed for one minute.
The Speaker: Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from Florida?
There was no objection.
Mr. Green: Mr. Speaker, I wish to call the attention of my colleagues to an important resolution I shall introduce at the next session of Congress to investigate why the Naval Academy requirements are so severe that nine out of ten of the boys we nominate fail to pass. (Laughter.) Oh, you have all had the same experience; and we want to find out why these boys fail. This investigation should be conducted by the next Congress, and I shall ask your favorable consideration of a resolution providing for such an investigation.
That the examinations are searching is p1478 undoubtedly true, but it is not believed that they are too severe for the purpose for which they are intended, i.e., the assurance that only those young men are admitted whose previous education gives them a reasonable chance of satisfactorily completing the crowded and difficult course. Generally speaking, the examinations parallel those given by the College Entrance Examination Board. The mathematics examinations are sometimes considered more difficult than the College Board's for the reason that they include a higher proportion of "original" problems, i.e., problems whose solution depends upon the candidates having learned the principles involved rather than "textbooky" problems whose solutions can be learned by rote by a study of certain standard textbooks.
In considering the standards of admission, it must not be forgotten that the Naval Academy is different from many of the civil colleges and universities, particularly those controlled by the various states, where the college is considered to be but an extension of secondary education, the pathway to which should be made as easy as possible. Civil colleges in the main are institutions of opportunity, whereas the Academy is an institution of obligation. The Naval Academy feels that its type of examination is necessary to assure a student body with a high average of mathematical ability, and that it is justified in keeping its own standards at a high level because its students, in contradistinction to those at civil institutions, are being maintained under salary at government expense for the specialized training and education required by the naval service.
It is sometimes suggested by members of Congress and others that the Academy adopt the College Entrance Examination Board's examinations in lieu of its own. This has been considered carefully by the Academic Board, which declined to do it for the following reasons:
(a) The College Board examinations are usually held in June after all schools have closed, and the results in many cases are not known until July or August. This is no disadvantage to the colleges which open in September or October, and it is undoubtedly a positive advantage to the candidates. But the Academy has always held it to be highly desirable, if not essential, that the entering classes be formed as early in the summer as possible. Midshipmen are more than students at an institution of higher education; in addition they are being prepared specifically to be junior officers in the Navy, and this preparation involves many other factors than purely academic instruction. The young men are being introduced into a new, strange, and possibly difficult environment, and "plebe" summer is an excellent preparatory period devoted to intensive drills, and instruction and familiarization of the new midshipmen with naval environment, traditions, and discipline. A delay in the examination dates would eliminate this summer work.
(b) The Academy has compared its examinations with those of the College Board and believes from all the evidence before it that its own are better tests of a young man's ability and meet better the particular problems of the Academy. This belief is substantiated by a comparison of the scores made on the College Board's Mathematical Aptitude Tests by those entering the Academy and those entering other Eastern colleges, in which the entering midshipmen were shown to be very superior mathematically. The Academy's examinations in English and history do not differ materially from the College Board's.
The Board of Visitors, 1934, among whose members were five college presidents and one dean of an engineering school, made a careful inquiry into the entrance requirements and the method of administration and reported:
p1479 The Board commends the general methods of administering the entrance requirements now in vogue and is particularly impressed with the good results that come from the substantiating examinations.
Many colleges use aptitude or "intelligence" tests as a part of their entrance criteria, usually in conjunction with certificates of scholastic work done or with examinations, and the suggestion has often been made that the Naval Academy do the same. A careful study of this general subject has been made at the Academy and it has been decided that it is impracticable to use them for the following reasons:
(a) There is a mistaken notion that these tests measure "innate intelligence." According to the best authorities on the subject, this is a present‑day delusion which should be eradicated at once. In its final analysis, intelligence is probably an inherited neurological capacity which there is no present prospect of measuring.
(b) All that can be legitimately claimed for these tests is that they are economical, simple, and easily executed indirect tests of ability for some specific performance. The best test of that ability is to observe the performance itself, but that is frequently uneconomical of time, effort, and money. The tests do make possible a provisional prediction as to probable performance. But they are thus in the same category as any other examinations in that they involve the solution of problems and a comparison of the results with the standards attained by a large group in solving the same problems. Our entrance examinations, in the final analysis, are based on exactly the same principles.
(c) The utility of aptitude tests is a function of their accuracy and their economy. In speaking of the utility of tests given college students, Paul L. Boynton, in Intelligence: Its Manifestations and Measurement (Appleton, 1933), states:
In no case are correlations (between test and subsequent academic performance) reported which are sufficiently large to have outstanding significance from the point of individual prediction.
(d) For a number of years the Naval Academy used the Otis Self-Administering (higher examination) Tests. There is presented below a table of comparison of certain results of the test and certain features of academic performance for the classes of 1930, 1931, 1932, and 1933:
|Group||No.||Def.||% Def.||Stars||% Stars|
|Note: The above classifications of "superior," "good," etc., were arbitrary ones adopted by the Academy itself.|
The table indicates plainly that these tests are not accurate enough to serve as a basis for excluding candidates for admission. If all the 310 individuals in the "passing" and "poor" groups had been refused admittance, entry of only 113 of the 416 "bilgers," or 27 per cent, would have been prevented. To cut the number of "bilgers" appreciably, it would have been necessary to refuse admittance to nearly all those grouped as "average," and to have accepted only the "good" and "superior." The Academy believes that considerable opposition would develop in Congress to any attempt on its part to utilize such tests for admission and there would be considerable difficulty in justifying any such action by the evidence available. There is already some opposition to the rigidity of the requirements, and the introduction of such a doubtful and controversial requirement as the "intelligence tests" would intensify it.
The Academy recognizes that efforts to develop an adequate and highly accurate indirect test of intellectual ability represent a dominant trend in psychological p1480 thinking today. It is possible that great improvements will be effected within a few years and that means may be developed to measure what is loosely called "innate intelligence." The Naval and Military Academies are almost ideal institutions for trying out serious efforts along these lines, because their comprehensive and accurate system of marking renders accurate comparison of tests with academic performance possible to a degree not found elsewhere. For this reason the Naval Academy has for several years co‑operated with the College Entrance Examining Board in giving the College Board's scholastic aptitude tests to each incoming fourth class. While the Academy does not believe that the College Entrance Examining Board scholastic aptitude tests have yet reached the point where they can be put to practical use in the selection of candidates for the Naval Academy, it appears that the problem is being attacked in a scientific and thorough manner which gives promise of valuable, practical uses when perfected, and that there are decided possibilities in tests of this nature for use in time of national emergency in selecting material for intensive training. The College Board's tests as well as the Otis tests formerly used have given the Naval Academy one valuable piece of information. They have enabled it to compare the scores of entering midshipmen with the scores of those entering other representative universities and colleges and thus to ascertain that its entrance requirements are sufficiently high to produce a student body whose average ability, as measured by the tests, compares very favorably with the best and that it is superior to most.
After meeting all the mental tests, the candidate still has to jump the barrier of the physical examinations. Space does not permit a detailed catalogue of all the disorders which are a bar to admission; these are fully described in the Regulations Governing Admission previously referred to. Suffice it to say that candidates must be physically sound, well formed, and of robust constitution. It is highly advisable for every young man, before undertaking the labor and expense of preparing himself for entry, to submit himself to a thorough physical examination by his family physician or, preferably, by a naval surgeon who is available at any naval recruiting office. Those who live near enough are advised to apply at the Naval Academy itself for a preliminary examination. By this means, the aspirant may learn whether or not his efforts are likely to prove fruitless, and whether it is possible to correct minor defects by proper operative or hygienic mixtures. About 15 per cent of those who appear for the final physical examinations are rejected, not a high percentage to be sure, but most of those with obviously serious defects have learned about them in the preliminary examinations and give up their efforts to enter the Academy. Most of the final rejections are for defective vision, defective color vision, insufficient and defective teeth, including malocclusion and malformation of the jaws, disorders of the heart and circulatory system, and disorders of the kidneys.
Mr. J. M. Horton, an educator of Fillmore, California, has compiled a table of "education coefficients" for the secondary school systems of the various states, which may be of interest to the readers of this article. For some years the University of California has registered the first half-year standings of her freshmen against the high schools from which they came, with the belief that the standings of the freshmen were more largely influenced during this period by the schools from which they came than by the university. With this same idea in mind, and noting that the Military and Naval Academies draw from all the states, the orders of merit of the "plebes" at West Point and Annapolis p1481 from each state were added together and the sum divided by the number from the state, the result being an "educational coefficient" for the state. The smaller the coefficient, the better the state educationally. The following tabulation shows the standing of the states as thus determined for the period 1926‑31, inclusive:
|U. S. Average||221.1|
The table is probably not strictly accurate because it was made up from the annual registers showing the states from which the cadets and midshipmen were appointed, and these are not in every case the states in which they received their education. Many of them, also, attended the special preparatory schools, which would affect its validity somewhat, but it is probably a close approximation of the truth.
Candidates must be of good moral character, the determination of, and responsibility for, which must in the nature of things rest largely in the hands of the appointing powers. That they discharge this responsibility properly is attested by the very few cases of dismissals or resignations in lieu of dismissals for offenses involving moral turpitude or breaches of the code of honor.
The foregoing pages have described the Academy's efforts to obtain the best human material possible. The Academy keeps closely in touch with the level of secondary school education throughout the country as a whole, and articulates its course of studies closely with those which it requires of its candidates. Its curriculum is crowded and is constantly being assailed by the increasing demands of a liberal, scientific, and professional education. It can make but little further advance as an educational institution within the limitations of four years until the secondary schools advance. It does hope to be able shortly to require a modern language and solid geometry for entrance. It believes that its entering students as a whole are the equals of the best, mentally, morally, and physically. It attempts to carry them on to high levels, with a solid foundation of academic education, a broad and sympathetic culture, and a character disciplined to the highest standards of honor and civic virtue.
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