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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 85

Open-handed Examinations

Open-handed Examinations.

Well conducted Examinations should afford a fair and friendly insight into the capabilities and acquirements of the students, without unnecessarily taxing their brains, or trying their nerves, and without affording scope for the ingenuity of "Coaches," who thrive on a system of surrounding knowledge with sham fortifications, having weak points and back entrances, and defended by puzzles and "catch questions."

Now trials carefully conducted during many years at various London Institutions with my "Science made Easy" Course, have conclusively proved that earnest examinations can be carried on without these drawbacks, to the entire satisfaction of both Examiner and Examinees, by a plan so simple and easy, that I cannot page 60 help wondering that it has not, as far as I am aware, ever been tried before.

For the purpose of the Examinations, each Lecture has been divided into a convenient number of parts, large or small according to the nature of the subjects; and a Question has been prepared for each part, embracing as far as possible, the main substance or gist thereof, and so framed that a person answering it, may be fairly prompted to show to what extent he has understood and retained the matter referred to.

A Questionary, or set of such Questions, about a dozen in number, is printed at the conclusion of each Lecture for the convenience of frequent use in the progress of instruction. All the Sets are united on an Examination Sheet, forming a General Questionary for the whole Course. It is on this that the Examiner is to mark at the examination time, two or more questions thoughtfully selected for each Lecture. Which these questions may be the student cannot possibly foresee. He has the satisfaction of feeling that he cannot be asked any question which he has not had a fair opportunity of preparing himself to answer, but such preparation must, as far as his abilities allow, embrace the gist of the whole Course, and this is all that can be desired.

The Questions have appended to them numbers ranging from 3 to 25, which indicate their more or less comprehensive and difficult nature, and show the maximum number of Marks which a Candidate can obtain by answering them in a thoroughly efficient manner.

At the Examination Table each Candidate receives a copy of the General Questionary with the Questions marked for each Lecture he is to be examined in. Some are easy, others more difficult or comprehensive, in order to give him an opportunity of adapting his attempts to his abilities. The Examiner in determining page 61 what number of Marks each answer of a Candidate deserves, bears in mind the number appended to the printed question as the maximum obtainable.

I may refer for further particulars to Part I. of "Science made Easy" (p. 26). It must however be remembered that the Examinations there described, and which used to be conducted on my behalf at the London Institutions with such satisfactory success by Wm. Hudson, B.Sc., were in matters of detail specially adapted to the capabilities and requirements of Working Class Candidates. At Schools for the Middle and Upper Classes, altered arrangements would bring into combined relief the genuine reliableness of the principle, and its easy adaptability. I trust indeed that the more this "Open-handed System" is looked into, the more evident will become its peculiar suitableness for giving shy and untutored merit a fair chance of success. Feeling perfectly secure against abstruse or out of the way Questions, since none can be asked but the carefully and clearly worded ones of a published Questionary, Candidates will set to work with a satisfaction, and present themselves at the Examinations with a self-possession, that could scarcely be secured by any other means. At the same time it is obvious that the comparatively permanent character given to the Questionaries, will repay a great amount of care bestowed on their first preparation, whilst periodical revisions will secure their being kept up to the level of the time. Lastly, I may mention the great saving of trouble it is to the conscientious Examiner, to have a well-digested series of questions spread out before him for his selection.

It is obvious that a Questionary in order to be at once brief, clear, and satisfactory, must be the reflex of its own particular book, of which, however, the student is not to learn portions by rote, but so to grasp the sense of the whole, that he can when called upon, express it in page 62 his own words. But the desirableness of fixing the attention of Candidates on special text-books is not confined to the Questionary System, and I could point to many a public Examination in which their perplexities have been increased, and their real progress hindered by the disinclination of certain educational authorities to incur the responsibility of recommending one source of information in preference to another. The first duty of the organizers of Science Examinations, is of course to make themselves thoroughly acquainted with the prospective requirements and average capabilities of the candidates with whom they have to deal, then to point out suitable sources of information if they exist, and if not to induce and superintend their production. If this cannot be done, and the candidates are to have no other guidance than that of a Programme, Syllabus, or Curriculum, that guidance should at all events be so rational, so obviously well-intentioned, so detailed and so clear, that they may constantly feel they are in the right track, acquiring valuable knowledge in exact accordance with the views of a conscientious and kind Examiner, who will test it in a manner at once thorough and equitable, friendly and fair.

If such principles generally prevailed, one would not hear of a spirit of antagonism between Examiners and Examinees, and of the latter being trained to overcome obstacles thrown in their way, by means of coaching and cramming, sham memory and ephemeral knowledge. The needed reform might at first be a hardship for certain Teachers who have acquired a special reputation in preparing youths for admission to the Civil and Military Service, and the like; but they would soon turn their ingenuity towards a more satisfactory success, wafted on the rising tide of sound utilitarian science, which bids fair to extend its benefits to every department of our national organization.

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