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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 2, No. 17. August 9, 1939

Student Opinion — Civil Service Efficiency Tests

Student Opinion

Civil Service Efficiency Tests


It is surely a good thing that our civil servants are to be tested, that the material used in our Government services is being subjected to reasonable arrangement. During the last hundred years or more, man has made tremendous progress in changing his environment and social order so that the world would be a better place to live in, or rather to show man how to live in it better. All this progress in the positive sciences has been brought about by the application of reason and order to the material of man's surroundings, by the close study of the problems he is faced with, and reducing his findings to ordered classifications. In all cases there has been no advance until he has rejected all that is found to be of least use and fostered the proved best in spite of prevailing prejudices. Yet in spite of this example shown by the progressive positive sciences, when science attempts to study the problems of men themselves to find ability so that it may be exploited, there is immediately an outcry of protest.

They say that a rigorous inspectorial system would be of more value in determining efficiency than an examination. This is just footling. How a system relying on personal impressions and open to all the abuses and sharp practices of personal report can be considered as superior to a well-constructed test is inconceivable. The next objection is that educational thought today is against the principle of exams, This is true, but it must be remembered that it is exams, in the young, the results of which don't mean anything anyway, that the educationalist is against Examinations at the adult level are of definite value. After, the age of 16 or so an exam, is very valuable in that it synthesises knowledge and brings learning to a point. This is the modern view, and according to its findings there is everything in favour of exams for civil servants. Same objective estimate of ability and [unclear: epctency] is necessary.

A great deal has been made in the commercial press and oven in "Salient" of the effect this extra swot will have on deterring civil servants from taking university work. This is untrue. To quote from the proposals: "Civil servants making, satisfactory progress towards a professional or university diploma or degree will be exempted from sitting the tests."

It seems, then, that in principle there is no real objection that [unclear: agn] be raised against the Introduction of civil service tests. It is merely the details of tests that is objected to. This is surely only a matter of arrangement rather than outburst.—G.H.


The case against the efficiency tests has been based mainly on the cruelty of forcing a civil servant to suffer exams. That argument is weak and I do not attempt to sustain it. A man who knows his job should have no difficulty with the tests, and if he does not know it, he should learn, if only to justify his position. It is beside the point if the process of learning involves "swotting."

Any real criticism must be based on the purpose of the tests which is. I assume, indicated in the title, Is an efficient civil servant merely one who knows several acts and sets of regulations, has read up the history and functions of his department, and who is proficient at indexing, precis writing and correspondence? I think not, A sound routine plodder should pass that test with ease but the tests are to select men for promotion to the higher grades from which administrative heads are recruited.

The efficient administrative officer must have the ability to see the functions of his department, himself, and his staff in the light of the best current thought on the functions of government and in relation to the policy of the Government of the day. He must have the ability so to organise and direct the work of his section or Department that those functions are carried out completely and efficiently. To perform his advisory function he must possess an informed, disciplined and inventive mind and the power of concise and lucid expression.

That the old system does not select the best men for these tasks may condemn it but does not necessarily justify the new system. The best men are urgently needed, but the efficiency tests in their present form give no guarantee that they will be found.—T.R.S.