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Lesson 7

                   Do Examinations Do More Harm Than Good?

                                        Text

                                On Eggs and Exams

    I've been acting like an egg striking a rock. What is this egg? It's the campaign against the old-fashioned way of teaching Intensive Reading . And what' s the rock?. It' s the old-fashioned way of setting exams. So long as the old type of I.R. examination remains in force, the campaign against the old method of teaching I.R. can't win. It's like an egg striking a rock.


    Many people agree: Yes, this old-fashioned I.R. (OFIR) is certainly intensive; it calls for most intensive work by the students. But it doesn't teach them how to read. The more intensively the students study, the fewer books they read.
    And OFIR doesn't teach them language well either. Learning a language means learning to use it. OFIR doesn't do that. It teaches mainly about the language.


    Well, if so many teachers and students agree that OFIR doesn't teach people how to read, why aren't they willing to give it up? Because of that rock - the rock of the old examination system. If that rock is not smashed, the egg is smashed. The campaign against OFIR can't be won.


    Many I. R. exams, until now, have actually includec reading material studied during the term. Does that examim how well the students have learnt to read? No. It examine how well they have learnt by heart the reading texts and the explanations the teacher has given them. A student might ge high marks on such .a test without having learnt to read much better than before she took the course. A true test would consist
of unseen passages. That would show how well a studew could read and how much she had learnt.


    Is that so important? Yes. A college student should know how to read and should learn to read much and fast. She should, on graduation, have read hundreds and hundreds of pages, dozens and dozens of books. .
    How else can our students inherit the knowledge that mankind has gained through the ages? For that is what China must do in order to modernize.


    Of course, reading in itself is not enough. We must think - think about what we read and analyze its content, idea: and ap.proach. "Cultivate the habit of analysis." That is the aim of education. But we must have something solid to analyze. We must have some knowledge of the world, of nature, of society, past and present, Chinese and foreign. So we must read much. Therefore we must learn to read fast.


    Naturally, we do need to know something about the language. We do need to know some grammar. But grammar is only a means to an end, not an end in itself. For grammar, after all, is theory. And "what is theory for and where does it come from ? It comes from practice and serves practice." The same applies to grammar. So we need to do some intensive reading for the sake of extensive reading, for the sake of reading whole articles, whole books. A little theory goes a long way. The final test is practice.


    True, reading is far from the only source of knowledge. Reading without observing life and taking part in life, without experimenting, will produce bookworms, not modernizers.
    This does not show that all kinds of I. R. are absolutely useless and should be scrappeds. Some I . R . should be kept but it should be kept within limit. It should not be "the super-power course", riding roughshod over the language curriculum
and taking over most of the timetable. And what I . R . we keep and teach should not be so long and so hard that the teacher is forced to use the duck-stuffing, lecturing method. And it should not just focus on "words, words, words ". It should focus on meaning, on ideas, on understanding, on communication - on forests as well as on
trees.


    But as long as students are forced to get good marks in order to get good jobs; and as long as teachers want their students to get good marks so that they themselves can gain fame as good teachers, then everything depends on examinations. It depends on what sort of exams w e teachers set and the educational
authorities demand. Until we reform our exams we can hardly reform our teaching methods.
    So let's launch a new campaign, to discuss and reform the exam system; and at the same time continue the campaign against OFIR, the super-power. We need to fight on two fronts at once. Otherwise we'll be eggs striking rocks.

II. Read
    Read the following passages. Underline the important viewpoints while reading.

                    l. Different Views about Examinations   

John:   Examinations do more harm than good!
Michae:   I agree. We spend so much time revising for examinations that we
  haven't enough time for new work!
Joan:   I don't agree. Without exams, no one would do any revision. We would soon
  forget everything.
Linda:   That's right. The only time I do any work is when there's going to be an
  exam! That's true of everyone, isn't it?
John:   No, I don't think so. Many people work steadily all the time, and they 
  remember what they learn. That's better than doing no work for weeks
  and then working all night before the examination. If there were
  no exams, more people would work like that, don't you agree?
Joan:   No, I don't think so. I think many people wouldn't do any work at all.
  I know I wouldn't.
Linda:   Of course not. Besides, without exams, how could an employer
  decide whether to give us jobs?
John:   The teachers could write reports about us. Examinations can be
  unreliable, don't you think so? Our teachers know as well, don't they?
Linda:   Yes, they do. That's why I would rather have an examination!

            

            2. The General Certificate of Education at O Level

    When people discuss education they insist that preparation for examiriations
is not the main purpose. They are right in theory, but in practice, we all realize how importarit examinations are. What do you know about the examinations taken at English secondary schools? Here are a few facts about some of them. .
    Pupils who remain at school until they are sixteen normally take what is called the Geneial Certificate of Education at Ordinary level. The examination is a subject examination. This means you can take a number of subjects. Some pupils take as many as ten. The more subjects the better chance a pupil has of getting a job on leaving school.


                 3. Homework Row Led to the Death of a Girl

    A nine-year old girl was beaten to death by her mother for failing to finish the day's homework in time.
    Liu Lin- was a third-year pupil in a primary school in a Tibetan autonomous
prefecture in Northwest Qinghai Province: She was one of the best students in her school, according to yesterday's Workers' Daily.
    But on July 10, she did not do her arithmetic homework when Sun Fengxia, her mother, got home from work at 16:00 p.m.


    Sun severely beat her daughter with a rolling pin, the newspaper said.
    By 19:30 p.m. that evening, she found that her daughter had done only part of the homework, and she became even more angry.
Sun slapped her daughter in the face and kicked her, according to the paper.
    Lin became unconscious and later died despite efforts of doctors to save her.
    Such cases are not rare in China.


    In December last year in the province, Wu Yuxia beat her nine-year old son Xia Fei to death . She later committed suicide in a prison.
    In Dalian of Northeast Liaoning Province, Li Liansheng beat his 14- year old son Li Guobin to death in March last year because the boy was playing truant.
    In Nanjing, capital of coastal Jiangsu Province, 19-year old Wang Lin killed his parents at home because they forced him to try to get good marks in examinations.


                     4. Examinations Are Primitive Methods
                        of Testing Knowledge and Ability

    We might marvel at the progress made in every field of study, but the methods of testing a Person's knowledge and ability remain as primitive as they ever were. It really is extraordinary that after all these years, educationists have still failed to devise anything more efficient and reliable than examinations. For all the pious claim that examinations test what you know, it is cotnmon knowledge that they more often do the exact opposite. They may be a good means of testing memory, or the knack of working rapidly under extreme pressure, but they can tell you nothing about a person's true ability and aptitude.



                         5. Examinations Are Anxiety-makers

    As anxiety-makers, examinations are second to none. That is because so much depends on them. They are the mark of success or failure in our society. Your whole future may be decided in one fateful day. It doesn't matter that you weren't feeling very well, or that your mother died. Little things like that don't count: the exam goes on. No one can give of his best when he is in mortal terror,or after a sleepless night, yet this is precisely what the examination system expects him to do. The moment a child begins school, he enters a world of vicious competition where success and failure are clearly defined and measured. Can we wonder at the increasing number of "drop-outs": young people who are written off as utter failures before they have even embarked on a career? Can we be surprised at the suicide rate among students?

 

                     6. The Examination System Never Trains
                             You to Think for Yourself

    A good education should, among other things, train you to think for yourself. The examination system does anything but that. What has to be learnt is rigidly laid down by a syllabus, so the student is encouraged to memorise. Examinations do not motivate a student to read widely, but to restrict his reading; they do not enable him to seek more and more knowledge, but induce cramming. They lower the standards of teaching, for they deprive the teacher of all freedom. Teachers themselves are often judged by examination results and instead of teaching their subjects, they are reduced to training their students in exam technipues which they despise. The most successful, candidates are not always the best educated; they are the best trained in the technique of working under duress.



                    7. Exam Is a Subjective Assessment by Some
                                 Anonymous Examiner

    The results on which so much depends are often nothing more than a subjective assessment by some anonymous examiner. Examiners are only human. They get tired and hungry: they make mistakes. Yet they have to mark stacks of hastily scrawled scripts in a limited amount of time. They work under the same sort of pressure as the candidates. And their word carries weight.

 After a judge,s decision you have the right of appeal, but not after an examiner's. There must surely be many simpler and more effective ways of assessing a person's true abilities. Is it cynical to suggest that examinations are merely a profitable business for the institutions that run them? This is what it boils down to in the last analysis. The best comment on the system is this illiterate message recently scrawled on a wall: "I were a teenage drop-out and now I are a teenage millionaire. "