Page images
[blocks in formation]

done to get it, and in addition we note indications of strength or feebleness of will, we can find out pretty well from a set of papers whether a man knows his own mind or not.” Written work will call out qualities which could not be revealed by viva voce questions. The oral examination is good for intellectual stimulus, for bracing up the student to rapid and prompt action; for deftness and brightness. But oral answers are necessarily discontinuous and fragmentary. The pupil receives help and suggestion at every moment from the play of the teacher's countenance, from the answers given by his fellows. Whatever of unity and sequence there is in the treatment of the subject is the teacher's work, not the pupil's; and until you subject him to the test of writing, you have no security that he has grasped the subject as a whole, or that he is master of the links that bind one part of that subject to another.

Nevertheless we have to postulate here that there are What they certain very valuable qualities which are not revealed in a written examination, and which the habit of exclusively relying on such examination does not encourage. Except in so far as diligence and obedience are concerned, examinations do little to test moral qualities, or active power. They do not tell you whether the action of mind has been rapid or sluggish, nor how far the pupil has been influenced by a sense of duty or by strong interest in his work. Still less do they help you to guage those attributes on which success and honour in life so much depend; sympathy with human beings, deference for superiors, the power of working with and influencing others; address, flexibility, manner. once for all acknowledge that either for educational purposes, or for testing and selection, with a view to the requirements of a University or of the public service; the

cannot test.

Let us

F. L.

I 2

best examinations do not test the whole man, but leave some important elements of character to be ascertained by other means; and we have still to ask, within what limits examinations are valuable, and how we can get the maximum of good out of them. If we get at wrong results by trusting to examinations, it is not because examinations are misleading or inequitable, but because we use them too exclusively, and do not also make a due use of other means of judging.

It often happens that pupils who present themselves for some public examination for the first time are hindered by flurry and nervousness from doing themselves justice. But this is because the conditions of the examination, the silence, the printed paper, the isolation, the utter impossibility of getting a friendly hint, or word of encouragement, or any assurance that they are in the right way, are entirely new to them. But these conditions ought not to be new, for they are in themselves a discipline in self-possession and self-mastery. We do well therefore to accept them, not as a grievance, but as having a value of their own; and if our pupils are looking forward to any public examination, to make that examination subservient to our purposes as teachers;

not to allow ourselves to be dominated by it. False

In making up our minds on this subject we must metaphors. beware of being misled by false metaphors. We are told

sometimes that the habit of probing children often, either by written or oral examinations is like digging up the root of a flower to see how it grows, and those who talk thus

say much as to the value of stillness and meditation, and the importance of leaving scope for silent growth and for the natural action of the child's own mental powers. But there is no true analogy here. The act of reproducing what we know, and giving it new forms of

[blocks in formation]

expression is not an act of loosening, but of fixing. We must of course abstain from needless and irritating questions, but we may not forget that with a child, to leave him unquestioned and untested is not to give better room for the spontaneous exercise of his own faculties, but simply to encourage stagnation and forgetfulness.

There is another still more unpleasant metaphor often Cram. used in connexion with the subject of examinations. They are said to encourage cram; and this word has come to be currently used as a convenient term to designate any form of educational work which the speaker may happen to dislike or wish to discredit. But we should try to clear our minds of illusions on this point. If by this term we mean dishonest preparation, hasty and crude study, a contrivance by which persons may be made to seem to know more than they actually understand; we are all alike interested in denouncing it. But it is not necessarily encouraged by examinations. On the contrary, this is precisely what every good examination is meant to detect. And every examiner who knows his business can easily discern the difference between the knowledge which is genuine and has been well digested, and that which is superficial and is specially got up to deceive him. Dishonestly prepared men undoubtedly come up for examinations, but they do not pass, and the blame of the transaction rests with those who send them up, not with the examinations themselves.

It is plain that this ugly term cannot properly apply to reading, writing and arithmetic. A child can either perform these acts or he cannot; whether he can perform them or not is ascertainable by a simple test, and if he can perform them well he has acquired an accomplishment of permanent value. He may have been unskil

fully taught, or taught by too slow a process, but he cannot have been crammed' or dishonestly taught. What is implied by the use of this term is often that the work which has been done is of the wrong sort, that it has been done in an excited eager way, and with too great a consciousness of the imminence of the examination. It is your business to watch any tendency in this direction and to guard against it.

Here however it is to be noted, that if the scholar is permitted to attempt in two months, work which ought to occupy a year, it is the ten months' slackness, and not the two months' exceptional effort which constitutes the evil. Even this is an evil which it is easy to exaggerate. It is good for us, all through life to have in reserve the power of putting special energy into our work at particular emergencies. Such emergencies occur occasionally in after years when we do not think of effort; when we willingly scorn delights and live laborious days,' and when the whole faculty and strength are concentrated on the solution of one practical problem, or the achievement of one object of strong desire. So long as the health does not suffer we do not object to see a boy's power strained and concentrated on a cricket-match, or a girl's on some decoration or festival, although we know that the effort is excessive, and could not properly be continued. Nature is very kind to young people, and restores their energies to their

proper balance very soon; and she will do it we may be sure quite as readily with the intellectual as well as with the physical powers. For one authentic case of permanent injury to the health of a school-boy or girl from too much mental exercise, there are twenty examples of scholars who suffer from idleness or inaction.

But grant that special pressure of this kind is an unmixed evil; it might easily be avoided in your school

Precautions against

[blocks in formation]

work if you will bear in mind two or three simple pre- the abuse cautions :

of exami.

nations. (1) Do not undertake to prepare the pupils of your school for more than one external examination, and make sure that the scheme selected corresponds to your own aim and ideal of school-work.

(2) Having selected it, look its requirements well in the face a good year beforehand, arrange all your work so that a small but distinct approach shall be made towards your end every day. Refuse to allow any pupil to present himself unless he has had time and opportunity to do his work well.

(3) Do not let any part of the preparation be considered exceptional, but incorporate the whole of it as far as possible into the daily programme of the school.

(4) If you have a few pupils going up for the Oxford or the Cambridge Local Examinations, or any other which offers a considerable variety of alternative subjects, select for them all, the one or two of such subjects which, having regard to your own tastes and to the qualifications of your teaching staff, you feel to be most appropriate. Do not cut up the organization of the school and waste your own teaching power by letting the pupils choose their own alternatives. Of course, it is a good thing to consider the individual bent of each child and to encourage it. But you cannot do this wisely in the matter of examinations except where the pupils have access to private tuition. The interests of every pupil in a school are best consulted in the long run by his learning that which others are learning, and which the school can teach best.

(5) It is a good plan to hold a fortnightly or monthly examination in writing, extending over the principal subjects to be taught and conducted under the same

« PreviousContinue »