Excerpts From: Academic Preparation for College: What Students Need To Know and Be Able To Do

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

The following are excerpts from the College Board's report on academic competencies and subjects suggested for high-school study.


The Basic Academic Competencies are the broad intellectual skills essential to effective work in all fields of college study. They provide a link across the disciplines of knowledge although they are not specific to any particular discipline. ...

In order to do effective work in college, it is essential that all students have the following academic competencies.


The ability to identify and comprehend the main and subordinate ideas in a written work and to summarize the ideas in one's own words.

The ability to recognize different purposes and methods of writing, to identify a writer's point of view and tone, and to interpret a writer's meaning inferentially as well as literally.

The ability to separate one's personal opinions and assumptions from the writer's.

The ability to vary one's reading speed and method (survey, skim, review, question, and master) according to the type of material and one's purpose for reading.

The ability to use the features of books and other reference materials, such as table of contents, preface, introduction, titles and subtitles, index, glossary, appendix, bibliography.

The ability to define unfamiliar words by decoding, using contextual clues, or by using a dictionary.


The ability to conceive ideas about a topic for the purpose of writing.

The ability to organize, select, and relate ideas and to outline and develop them in coherent paragraphs.

The ability to write Standard English sentences with corrrect: sentence structure; verb forms; punctuation, capitalization, possessives, plural forms, and other matters of mechanics; word choice and spelling.

The ability to vary one's writing style, including vocabulary and sentence structure for different readers and purposes.

The ability to improve one's own writing by restructuring, correcting errors, and rewriting.

The ability to gather information from primary and secondary sources; to write a report using this research; to quote, paraphrase, and summarize accurately; and to cite sources properly.


The ability to engage critically and constructively in the exchange of ideas, particularly during class discussions and conferences with instructors.

The ability to answer and ask questions coherently and concisely, and to follow through on spoken instructions.

The ability to identify and comprehend the main and subordinate ideas in lectures and discussions, and to report accurately what others have said.

The ability to conceive and develop ideas about a topic for the purpose of speaking to a group; to choose and organize related ideas; to present them clearly in Standard English; and to evaluate similar presentations by others.

The ability to vary one's use of spoken language to suit different situations.


The ability to perform, with reasonable accuracy, the computations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division using natural numbers, fractions, decimals, and integers.

The ability to make and use measurements in both traditional and metric units.

The ability to use effectively the mathematics of: integers, fractions, and decimals; ratios, proportions, and percentages; roots and powers; algebra; geometry.

The ability to make estimates and approximations, and to judge the reasonableness of a result.

The ability to formulate and solve a problem in mathematical terms.

The ability to select and use appropriate approaches and tools in solving problems (mental computations, trial and error, paper-and-pencil techniques, calculator, and computer).

The ability to use elementary concepts of probability and statistics.


The ability to identify and formulate problems, as well as the ability to propose and evaluate ways to solve them.

The ability to recognize and use inductive and deductive reasoning, and to recognize fallacies in reasoning.

The ability to draw reasonable conclusions from information found in various sources, whether written, spoken, or displayed in tables and graphs, and to defend one's conclusions rationally.

The ability to comprehend, develop, and use concepts and generalizations.

The ability to distinguish between fact and opinion.


This set of abilities is different in kind from those that precede it. They are set forth here because they constitute the key abilities in learning how to learn. Successful study skills are necessary for acquiring the other five competencies as well as for achieving the desired outcomes in the Basic Academic Subjects. Students are unlikely to be efficient in any part of their work without these skills.

The ability to set study goals and priorities consistent with stated course objectives and one's own progress, to establish surroundings and habits conducive to learning independently or with others, and to follow a schedule that accounts for both short- and long-term projects.

The ability to locate and use resources external to the classroom (for example, libraries, computers, interviews, and direct observation), and to incorporate knowledge from such sources into the learning process.

The ability to develop and use general and specialized vocabularies, and to use them for reading, writing, speaking, listening, computing, and studying.

The ability to understand and to follow customary instructions for academic work in order to recall, comprehend, analyze, summarize, and report the main ideas from reading, lectures, and other academic experiences; and to synthesize knowledge and apply it to new situations.

The ability to prepare for various types of examinations and to devise strategies for pacing, attempting or omitting questions, thinking, writing, and editing according to the type of examination; to satisfy other assessments of learning in meeting course objectives such as laboratory performance, class participation, simulation, and students' evaluations.

The ability to accept constructive criticism and learn from it.


Study in the Basic Academic Subjects provides the detailed knowledge and skills necessary for effective work in college. Students who intend to go to college will need this basic learning in order to obtain the full benefits of higher education. This learning provides the foundation for college study in all fields. ...

Acquiring the knowledge and skills provided by the Basic Academic Subjects involves careful selection of courses and sustained study before college. It is important, therefore, to indicate why students preparing for college need to make this effort and what they need to learn in the course of their high- school work.


The learning outcomes in the next three groups either provide greater detail concerning the Basic Academic Competencies in reading, writing, and speaking and listening [outlined above], or they go beyond those competencies to specify additional learning outcomes. College entrants will need the following preparation in English.

Reading and Literature

The ability to read critically by asking pertinent questions about what they have read, by recognizing assumptions and implications, and by evaluating ideas.

The ability to read a literary text analytically, seeing relationships between form and content.

The ability to read with understanding a range of literature, rich in quality and representative of different literary forms and various cultures.

Interest in and a sense of inquiry about written works.

The ability to respond actively and imaginatively to literature.


The recognition that writing is a process involving a number of elements, including collecting information and formulating ideas, determining their relationships, drafting, arranging paragraphs in an appropriate order and building transitions between them, and revising what has been written.

The ability to write as a way of discovering and clarifying ideas.

The ability to write appropriately for different occasions, audiences, and purposes (persuading, explaining, describing, telling a story.)

Skill and assurance in using the conventions of standard written English.

Speaking and Listening

The ability to engage in discussion as both speaker and listener--interpreting, analyzing, and summarizing.

The ability to contribute to classroom discussions in a way that is readily understood by listeners--that is, succinct and to the point.

The ability to present an opinion persuasively.

The ability to recognize the intention of a speaker and to be aware of the technique the speaker is using to affect an audience.

The ability to recognize and to take notes on important points in lectures and discussions.

The ability to question inconsistency in logic and to separate fact from opinion.


College entrants will also need to understand in some depth the following principles concerning the English language.

English, like every other language, operates according to grammatical systems and patterns of usage.

English continues to undergo change.

English is influenced by other languages both ancient and modern.

English has several levels of usage, and consequently the language appropriate in some situations may not be appropriate in others.

English has many dialects.

English words, like those of other languages, gather meaning from their context and carry connotation.


Students going to college will profit from the following preparation in the arts.

The ability to understand and appreciate the unique qualities of each of the arts.

The ability to appreciate how people of various cultures have used the arts to express themselves.

The ability to understand and appreciate different artistic styles and works from representative historical periods and culture.

Some knowledge of the social and intellectual influences affecting artistic form.

The ability to use the skills, media, tools, and processes required to express themselves in one or more of the arts.

College entrants also will profit from more intensive preparation in at least one of the four areas of the arts: visual arts, theater, music, and dance. ...


The following learning outcomes occasionally provide greater detail concerning the Basic Academic Competency in mathematics outlined in Chapter II and the computer competency described in Chapter III, but more often go beyond the competencies to specify additional outcomes of the study of mathematics. College entrants will need the following basic mathematical proficiency.

The ability to apply mathematical techniques in the solution of real-life problems and to recognize when to apply those techniques.

Familiarity with the language, notation, and deductive nature of mathematics and the ability to express quantitative ideas with precision.

The ability to use computers and calculators.

Familiarity with the basic concepts of statistics and statistical reasoning.

Knowledge in considerable depth and detail of algebra, geometry, and functions.

More specifically, college entrants will need the following preparation in mathematics.


Familiarity with computer programming and the use of prepared computer programs in mathematics.

The ability to use mental computation and estimation to evaluate calculator and computer results.

Familiarity with the methods used to solve mathematical problems when calculators or computers are the tools.


The ability to gather and interpret data and to represent them graphically.

The ability to apply techniques for summarizing data using such statistical concepts as average, median, and mode.

Familiarity with techniques of statistical reasoning and common misuses of statistics.


Skill in solving equations and inequalities.

Skill in operations with real numbers.

Skill in simplifying algebraic expressions, including simple rational and radical expressions.

Familiarity with permutations, combinations, simple counting problems, and the binomial theorem.


Knowledge of two- and three-dimensional figures and their properties.

The ability to think of two- and three-dimensional figures in terms of symmetry, congruence, and similarity.

The ability to use the Pythagorean theorem and special right triangle relationships.

The ability to draw geometrical figures and use geometrical modes of thinking in the solving of problems.


Knowledge of relations, functions, and inverses.

The ability to graph linear and quadratic functions and use them in the interpretation and solution of problems.

College entrants expecting to major in science or engineering or to take advanced courses in mathematics or computer science will need the following more extensive mathematical proficiency.


The ability to write computer programs to solve a variety of mathematical problems.

Familiarity with the methodology of developing computer programs and the considerations of design, structure, and style that are an important part of this methodology.


Understanding of simulation techniques used to model experimental statistics.

Knowledge of elementary concepts of probability needed in the study and understanding of statistics.


Skill in solving trigonometric, exponential, and logarithmic equations.

Skill in operations with complex numbers.

Familiarity with arithmetic and geometric series and with proofs by mathematical induction.

Familiarity with simple matrix operations and their relation to systems of linear equations.


Appreciation of the role of proofs and axiomatic structure in mathematics and the ability to write proofs.

Knowledge of analytic geometry in the plane.

Knowledge of the conic sections.

Familiarity with vectors and with the use of polar coordinates.


Knowledge of various types of functions including polynomial, exponential, logarithmic, and circular functions.

The ability to graph such functions and to use them in the solution of problems.


College entrants will need the following preparation in science.

Laboratory and Field Work

The ability to distinguish between scientific evidence and personal opinion by inquiry and questioning.

The ability to recognize the role of observation and experimentation in the development of scientific theories.

Sufficient familiarity with laboratory and field work to ask appropriate scientific questions and to recognize what is involved in experimental approaches to the solutions of such questions.

The skills to gather scientific information through laboratory, field, and library work.

The ability to organize and communicate the results obtained by observation and experimentation.

Mathematical Skills

A quantitative understanding of at least one field of science--an understanding that employes the basic mathematical proficiency for all students outlined in the foregoing description of learning outcomes in mathematics.

The ability to interpret data presented in tabular and graphic form.

The ability to draw conclusions or make inferences from data.

The ability to select and apply mathematical relationships to scientific problems.

The ability to use mathematical relationships to describe results obtained by observation and experimentation.

The ability to interpret, in nonmathematical language, relationships presented in mathematical form.

Fundamental Concepts

Understanding in some depth of the unifying concepts of the life and physical sciences including cell theory, geological evolution, organic evolution, atomic structure, chemical bonding, and transformations of energy.

Detailed Knowledge

College entrants will need detailed knowledge of at least one field of science, usually the same field in which they have developed a quantitative understanding. This detailed knowledge could be in the earth sciences or in one of the newer, interdisciplinary fields of science. It could also be in one of the more traditional fields: biology, chemistry, or physics.

In biology such detailed knowledge includes the central concepts, principles, and basic factual material of most, if not all, of the following topics: molecular and cellular aspects of living things, structure and function in plants and animals, genetics, evolution, plant and animal diversity and principles of classification, ecological relationships, and animal behavior.

In chemistry such detailed knowledge include the central concepts, principles, and basic factual material of most, if not all, of the following topics: states of matter, structure of matter, solutions, reactions of matter (including acid-base and oxidation-reduction), stoichiometry, energy changes in chemical reactions, equilibrium, kinetics, and descriptive chemistry (including periodic classification, metals, nonmetals, and introductory organic chemistry).

In physics such detailed knowledge include the central concepts, principles, and basic factual material of most, if not all, of the following topics: mechanics, optics, wave phenomena, electricity and magnetism, heat and kinetic theory, atomic and nuclear physics, and relativity.

College entrants expecting to major in scientific fields will need the more extensive mathematical proficiency for such students outlined in the mathematics section. Additional quantitatively based scientific study will also be important.


All college entrants will need the following general understanding of the social studies.

Basic factual knowledge of major political and economic institutions and their historical development.

Basic factual knowledge of the social and cultural fields of history.

An introductory knowledge of the content and concepts of the social sciences.

A grasp of major trends in the contemporary world (for example, nationalism or urbanization).

Familiarity with a variety of written, numerical, and visual forms of data.

Familiarity with the techniques of quantitative and nonquantitative analysis.

Familiarity with diverse interpretations of data.


College entrants will need certain general knowledge and skills in political, social, and cultural history.

Some understanding of the relationship between present and past, including contrasts between contemporary institutions and values and those of the past, the reasons for these contrasts, and leading continuities between past and present.

Some understanding of how to approach the problem of change over time.

The ability to recognize historical cause and effect.

The ability to identify major historical turning points.

Some ability to develop historical interpretations.

More specifically, college entrants will need the following basic knowledge.

United States History

The chronology and impact of political events, development of governmental and other social institutions, technological and environmental changes, and changes in social and cultural values.

The interaction among peoples of different national origins, races, and cultures and how such interaction has shaped American history.

The relationship between events and historical trends in the United States and trends elsewhere in the world, developed through analysis of major similarities and differences.

World Geography and Cultures

The basic features of major societies and cultures in the contemporary world: their geography, major economic and social structure, political systems, and religions.

The international context of contemporary diplomacy and economics.

The historical developments underlying present connections and similarities among the world's peoples, and the major differences dividing them.

The chronology and significance of major events and movements in world history (for example the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, and the spread of Islam).

Social Science

College entrants will need the following basic knowledge and skills in the social sciences.

The ability to understand basic information developed by the social sciences, including statistical data and other materials.

Familiarity with the basic method of the social sciences, that is, with the framing and empirical testing of hypotheses.

A basic understanding of at least one of the social sciences (for example economics, political science, geography, or sociology) and of how its practitioners define and solve problems.

Familiarity with how to approach a social topic or institution by means of ideas drawn from several social sciences.


College entrants will need proficiency in another langauge and culture that provides the following skills.

The ability to ask and answer questions in a simple conversation in areas of immediate need or on very familiar topics.

The ability to pronounce the language well enough to be intelligible to native speakers.

The ability to understand, with some repetition, simple questions and statements.

The ability to read and understand the information presented in a simple paragraph.

The ability to write a short paragraph on a familiar topic.

The ability to deal with everyday situations in the culture, such as greetings, leave-takings, buying food, and asking directions.

Reprinted by permission of the College Board. Copyright 1983 by College Entrance Examination Board.

Vol. 02, Issue 34

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on edweek.org, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories