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DEVOTED TO THE SCIENCE, ART, PHILOSOPHY, AND
LITERATURE OF EDUCATION.
EXAMINATIONS IN COLLEGES AND SCHOOLS.
BY BARR FERREE.
HE question of the relation of examination to education is perplexing, not from any inherent difficulty in itself, but because it is not easy to see how we can dispense with a servant that has so long been in such general use. It is not so much a question of examination as of education. The tendency of the day is towards masses, and this rule obtains in education as in all other subjects. We do not now limit education to the few, to those whose natural inclination leads them to seek a life of study, but each individual is expected to have more or less knowledge. Every child is expected - and in many cases compelled to spend a certain specified time in the schools, and no matter what his tastes or his future prospects may be, he is pushed on to the beginnings of the higher education. For this purpose the assistance of examinations has been called in, and in this way the servant has become the master. Examinations are conducted for two purposes: for finding out what a student knows, and for forcing those to study who would not do so otherwise, or, in other words, those who have no taste nor use for the knowledge they are gaining. These points require some elaboration.
Examinations for ascertaining knowledge. It is a question of some moment whether an examination based on written questions and with written answers really accomplishes its desired end. These examinations invariably rest heaviest on the best students,
who feel the necessity of preparation and realize the danger and the disgrace of failure. These men enter the examination hall fully realizing the responsibilities before them. It is absurd to talk of no cramming, or of reducing it to a minimum. No examination has yet taken place of which due notice has been given, for which the best, the most careful and studious, the most attentive and quick have not made weeks of preparation in the way of review and in memorizing certain facts. The traditions of many colleges abound with stories of particular questions the professors are sure to ask, and no matter how careful a student may be, nor how thorough and wide his general knowledge, the very fact that he is possessed of these qualities and is anxious to make a good mark, concentrates his attention upon these points. As a natural consequence he is apt to fail on other and perhaps more essential particulars. The weeks prior to an examination in any medical or law school are devoted to the hardest kind of study, and it is so in most of the collegiate departments of the universities.
A written examination with marks is not, in truth, an attempt to ascertain general knowledge, but specific. A student in history, for example, may be well acquainted with the general sequence of events; he may have a fair knowledge of the philosophy of the subject; he may know the date of the founding of Rome, or of the fall of Constantinople; he may have a fair idea of the life of Cæsar and its relations to the Roman empire, but be quite incapable of giving the exact date of his death, or even particulars of his victories. It is important to know that Cæsar conquered Gaul, but not particularly essential to know when these conquests were made. In an examination calling for minute details and very many are such the student may fail, and fail grievously, though his general knowledge be fairly accurate.
While such is the condition of things with the attentive students a very different state of affairs obtains with the indifferent ones. These latter gentlemen exhibit cramming in its fullest development. The indifferent student undertakes to compress into a few weeks the work of months, and the methods by which he accomplishes this end are both numerous and singular. Not unfrequently he will actually undertake to study and review whole textbooks in a week that really require months for a thorough mastering. This is the real cram, the genuine article, the dread. of the teacher. Sometimes a tutor is called in, and the operation
conducted under organized direction. More frequently ordinary colleges at all events the student will make his preparation in a truly wonderful manner. He will take his geometry or his conic sections, for example, and spend an entire nightmore if necessary-in copying out all the problems on small rolls of paper. His Cæsar, or his German reader, will be carefully inter. lined, if not entirely, at least in the most difficult parts. Other textbooks, which do not permit of either of these modes of treatment, have their covers removed, the superfluous sheets thrown out, the margins cut down, and the whole reduced to a convenient size for an inner pocket. Armed with these weapons, the delinquent boldly faces his examiner if he finds it impossible to hide behind his back, and passes the ordeal as best he may. One other preparation is necessary, and that is to secure a seat near the best man. The absorption of water by the sun on a hot day is not more direct or powerful than the absorption of knowledge that follows this master-move. By a proper and careful use of these means, or as many of them as can be used, the most careless student is enabled to pass a tolerable examination.
So general and thorough is the practice of cheating in very many of our colleges and universities, that any comparison of students by marks is grossly unfair. It is so generally expected that the better students shall help their less industrious companions, that it is almost impossible to reform the system. The result is disastrous in many ways. Knowledge that it has taken one man months to gain, is transferred in five minutes to others who may never have opened a textbook. Opportunities are offered for a duplication of papers, and as all are marked on an arithmetical basis, the relative position of the most attentive and the most indifferent may be identical.
The question of cheating in examinations is a very grave one, and the extent to which it is carried is quite unknown by the average teacher. In many cases they refuse to acknowledge that it is as general as it really is, and will close their eyes to it. Yet the present writer has attended examinations in which the object seemed to be, not who would write the best paper, but who could cheat the most without being detected. He has seen the professor who was conducting the examination take out a book and begin to read, and it is needless to add that simultaneously there were numerous other books taken out, and some very hard and careful