« PreviousContinue »
conditions of silence and complete isolation which are observed in public examinations. Besides this, it is well much more frequently to give, in connexion with each subject, a single question, to be answered fully in writing. The teacher should read some of the answers aloud, and point out their several defects, and then invite his class to watch him while he gives a model answer, as complete as he can make it, both as regards matter and style.
For school purposes it is well often to use a form of examination which would be impossible in public competitions, viz. to give more time, and to allow the use of books. After all, some of the best efforts we make in after life are made under these conditions, and the art of using authorities and of referring to them, is one which a school ought to teach. Some subjects lend themselves better to this form of exercise than others, e.g. biography, the description of a country, the explanation of the theory of a mathematical rule, the preparation of an essay on some familiar subject of fact or moral speculation. Here you do not want to test memory, but the power of using all the resources at one's disposal—books as well as thought. So a teacher may wisely say now and then, “Here is a question which wants a little thinking, I will give you two days to answer it, and you may get the
answer where and how you like.” Prepara- In drawing up a paper of questions, or determining tion of
how many you should set, you will be guided by circumwritten questions. stances. If you have to examine a number of persons not
your own pupils, it is always well to give more questions than can be answered, and to require the student to choose a limited number of those he can answer best. In the India Civil Service, where the competition is absolutely open, and where it is the business of the examiners to do full justice to men who have different How to frame Examination papers.
tastes, and have been very differently taught, I have been accustomed to set a long paper, say of 20 questions, and require that no candidate shall take more than six. We thus give a wide range of choice, and at the same time forbid a man to attempt a good many questions, and so to accumulate marks by superficial knowledge. At the University of London, where the curriculum of instruction is more strictly defined, but where the candidates have been taught on very different systems, it is usual at Matriculation to set in most subjects about 15 questions, and to limit the scholar to ten. But in a school where the teacher is himself the examiner, and where he knows exactly what has been taught and what ought to be known, it is not desirable to offer any choice or to set more questions than can be answered easily in the time. It is he, not the pupil, who should choose the questions which have to be answered.
As a rule, it is not desirable to sit down to frame a paper of questions all at once. If the examiner relies on his memory, or general knowledge of the subject, his questions will have a sort of family likeness, will deal with what his pupils know to be his special fancies, and so will probably be anticipated. And if he sits down to prepare a paper by the help of a text-book, he is tempted to select such questions as turn on obscure or isolated details, matters easy to question on, but of little real value. So he should usually have his note-book with him, and from time to time, as experience in teaching suggests to him some good form of question, he should jot it down, so as to have a store of such questions ready for use when they are wanted. You are much more likely to adapt your questions to the actual knowledge of the scholars if you do this, than if you attempt to recall the whole subject at once.
Test of a
The first requisite of a good paper is that it shall be good paper clear and unmistakeable in its meaning. All obscurity, of ques. tions. all pit-falls and all ambiguity should be avoided, for they
defeat their own purpose.
The next thing necessary is that the paper should be perfectly fair, i.e. exactly adapted to the scholar's age and attainments; and to what he may reasonably be expected to do. The moment you allow yourself to think of the effect that your questions will have on parents or on the outside public, you are in danger of proving unfair to the scholars. The object of the paper is to draw out their knowledge, not to detect their ignorance. You want to encourage them to do their best with the materials they have, and there is a want of perfect candour towards them, when you present them with a paper which
you have framed rather to display your own knowledge than theirs, and rather to impress other people with the width and excellence of your curriculum than to correspond to any reasonable requirements you can make of your pupils. I knew a large private school in Yorkshire, the principal of which used his last paper of examination questions as a printed advertisement, which was exhibited at railway stations and in newspapers, together with a prospectus of the school and a highly idealized wood-cut representing that establishment, though a mean one, as one of palatial elevation and park-like surroundings. I need not say that the questions were of a very
formidable kind, and were calculated to astonish and impress ignorant people. But what the boys thought of them, how they had answered them, and what sort of moral influence a master could hope to gain over children whom he caused to be parties to an imposture, the outside public were not informed, though I think some of us can guess.
Then a good proportion of the questions in every Straightpaper should be on matters of fact and of memory,
forwardplain straightforward questions in a familiar form, such as the average scholar, who has merely been diligent, but who has no genius, and not much talent for composition may feel encouraged to answer. Simple questions are always best; for they help you to do full justice to common-place pupils, and yet there is scope enough in them for difference in the manner and substance of the answer, to distinguish between such pupils and the best. Still, over and above these simple questions, I should always put two or three which require a little thought to interpret, and which will afford opportunities to the best scholars to distinguish themselves. Say I draw a paper of ten questions on Arithmetic. I would let seven of them be honest, straightforward sums in the form which the scholar would naturally expect; but I would add three which required an explanation of principles, and which, without being puzzles or conundrums, were designed to call forth the ingenuity and thought of the best scholars. Every paper you set has, it must be remembered, an educational value over and ove its office as a mere test. It is liable to be referred to and read again, and it helps to set up among your scholars the ideal at which you are aiming. So let us bear in mind that a good examination, when it has fulfilled its first duty as an honest scrutiny of what the pupils ought to have learned already, has also to fulfil the second purpose of showing what you think they ought to aim at, and in what way you wish their own thoughts to be brought to
their work. There is a kind of examining which has a sad tendency to beget untruthfulness on the part of both teachers and scholars; I mean that in which young
or immature students are encouraged to use language which they do not understand, and which presupposes a speculative and philosophic power which they do not yet possess.
Let me read to you some questions lately set at a public institution to some young people who had been attending a course of lectures;
“What is General History, and how is a scientific treatment of this subject possible?
What are the fundamental principles of the Chinese political and social organisation?
What do the Vedas contain? How do you account for the development of Brahmanism in India, and what are the analogies between the Indian, Egyptian, and Greek mythologies?
Who were the Persians? Sketch their mythical period, and give the principal incidents of their history, and the causes of their decline.
Who were the Greeks, and what was their influence on the intellectual development of humanity?
Give the principal laws of Lycurgus and Solon, their analogies and differences, and describe their influence on the formation of the Greek character.
Name the most important philosophical schools of Greece.
What were the chief causes that led to the establishment of the Empire at Rome?
What were the principal causes of the rapid progress of Christianity from an historical point of view?"
I have seen some of the answers to these questions, in which there are no facts, but much vague talk about the philosophic teaching of Thales and Anaximander, and about the static and dynamic forces of humanity. The pretentiousness and falsehood of all this will be apparent to you at once. Here are questions which the most accomplished scholars could not answer without effort, placed in the hands of raw beginners, who are thus tempted to indulge in philosophic generalization while