Dr. Emmett Dennis
Dr. Emmett Dennis

For the second year in a row, thousands of high school graduates have failed the University of Liberia entrance exams. 

Last year, all 25,000 students who took the exams failed. This year, only 15 out of 13,000 students passed the exams.

Dr. Emmett Dennis, president of the University of Liberia, said the students are not dumb, but rather are a casualty of Liberia’s civil war and the subsequent recovery process.

He also said part of the problem is a lack of qualified elementary and high school teachers to prepare the students.

Still, Dennis said, the university is not going to compromise on its new entrance exam policy.

“Two years ago, our testing was based on the class average of the class that took the entrance exam and not on the standards set by the faculty senate. So two years ago, we were getting these high admits. But then when I noticed what the testing center was doing and the high failure rates within the university, I felt something was wrong,” he said.

Dennis said all admission standards are set on the basis of the probability that a student will be successful at the university.

He said in order for a student to pass the new entrance exam, he or she must earn a score of 50 percent in math and 70 percent in English.

“The test is based on the curriculum put forth by the Ministry of Education. And this year, we even went further than last year. We actually gave the participants the old exam to study from,” he said.

Dennis said another component of the entrance exam is the West African Examination Council (WAEC).

“The WAEC passage goes from rank 1 to rank 8. If you score from rank 1 to rank 8, you’ve passed the WAEC. If you score rank 1, you don’t have to take the UL (University of Liberia) entrance exam,” he said.

Dennis said he once asked the WAEC director to eliminate ranks 7 and 8 so as to reduce the high failure rates at the university.

“If you rank 7 and 8, go back and take the WAEC before coming to LU.         But he (the WAEC director) said you will eliminate 98 percent of the people who will take your entrance exam because 98 percent of the students who pass the WAEC exam rank at 7 and 8,” Dennis said.

Dennis said the university is considering a number options to improve student performance.

“One is to return to the vacation (summer) school kind of thing that we had in the past, this time focusing on math and English. And bring in our math and English teachers each vacation from our high schools and give them... [an] immersion program in teaching math and English,” Dennis said.

Another program being considered by the university is to deliberately invest in teacher colleges to ensure an increased production of more highly qualified elementary and high school teachers.

Dennis said while the university will not compromise its standards, it is willing to do as it did last year, when it provisionally admitted about 1,600 students who scored high on the entrance exam and put them under an intense math and English study program.