Forestry students at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point are preparing for Basic Forestry Skills Review and Testing, which will take place at 8 a.m. on April 25.
Offered once a semester, students must pass sophomore, junior and senior levels of the exam in sequence before graduation.
The exam covers material from core courses and is designed to prepare and evaluate students seeking entry-level positions in forestry. Graduates are expected to have a working knowledge of forest management and an accompanying set of field skills.
To pass the course, students must answer 70 percent of questions correctly on a written exam and also pass a field tree-identification component. In order to pass the individual exams, sophomores must score a 70 percent, juniors a 75 percent and seniors an 80 percent on the tree-identification component. Course credit is awarded after passing the senior-level exam.
“There was a concern about a decade ago that students getting hired didn’t have the skills they needed,” said Richard Hauer, professor of forestry and former exam coordinator.
Hauer said the exam is a product of the university’s forestry advisory board, which meets regularly to assess and improve the program. Students pursuing other degrees in the College of Natural Resources are not required to take similar tests.
The exams are intimidating for some because they draw content from six courses in forestry, a few of which are taken by freshmen and sophomores.
“The requirement for all forestry majors to pass the senior level exam ensures that students are at least reminded of the information presented in early coursework that may be necessary in their future employment,” said Nathan Braatz, forestry major and president of UWSP Society of American Foresters.
Braatz said the society holds multiple “tree walks” where knowledgeable members lead small groups around campus or nearby parks to practice their tree species identification. The society also hosts review sessions for each exam level the week prior.
“This allows those that attend to review the content that they have taken two, three or four semesters before taking the test for credit as a senior,” Braatz said.
The field portion of the exam is perhaps the most difficult to study for. The site is kept secret until the day of the test to prevent students from identifying trees beforehand.
Nilesh Timilsina, associate professor of forestry and exam coordinator, said faculty select a site and trees one week in advance to ensure enough testable specimens are available and within walking distance.
“We go around and do a preliminary survey,” Timilsina said. “Then the flagging happens the day before.”
Timilsina said one main objective is for faculty to identify areas for improvement. The test is not designed to be punitive.
“You should have those skills after you graduate,” Timilsina said. “This is one way for us to evaluate where we’re lacking.”
All forestry faculty, Timilsina said, are involved in the review process. They assess trends in responses and identify questions that may be considered unfair. Any questions determined unfair are omitted.
It is unclear whether other American universities with forestry programs require basic skills testing. However, UWSP’s forestry graduates are in demand because employers believe they are well-prepared with fundamental knowledge and skills.
“In my brief experience as a national SAF member, I have found that Pointers are found across the country and their ability to perform at a high level speaks to expertise they refined while at UWSP,” Braatz said. “Pointers are sought after for forestry positions across the country, and the forestry skills exam is something that sets us apart from the rest of the employee pool.”