Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/560

This page has been validated.

The student may be writing down mere "tips" from memory; but if he makes no slip, and he has been carefully crammed, the examiner has to admit that he has got his marks. The examiner may doubt if the knowledge is real, or is worth anything. He can not state that the man has failed. If he had time and opportunity, he could easily ascertain. But in many examinations there is no viva voce allowed; in most examinations the public viva voce is not thought decisive, owing to nervousness, temper, accident, and various points of temperament and manner. Few examiners now care to decide by viva voce; which in any case is done in a hurry and under disturbing conditions that destroy its value as a real test. An examiner has rarely the chance of trying a candidate with a fresh paper, or of giving him as many quiet verbal questions from time to time as he might like. There is no time, there is no opportunity. There are the rigid rules; the candidate is not accessible at the time wanted; he can not be got into a state perfectly composed, easy, and master of himself. A quiet afternoon or a morning's walk would settle it all. But the clock goes round; the machine grinds on; the list must be out in a few hours; the examiners can not sit disputing forever; an average must be struck, time is called, and down goes the candidate's name—usually, be it said, "with the benefit of the doubt."

This is no fault of the examiner. His task is very difficult, trying, and irksome. None but trained men can perform it; and it is wonderful how much trained men can do, and with what patience and conscience they make up their lists. But the higher examiner now has to mark on an average, in a week, from 2,000 to 3,000 answers, perhaps from 4,000 to 5,000 pages of manuscript. In this mass he has to weigh and assess each answer, and to keep each candidate clear in his mind, throughout eight or ten sets of papers. He is lucky if he can do this with less than ten hours per day of work at high pressure—reading in each hour, say, from fifty to a hundred pages of manuscript. He can no more waste an hour, or follow up a thought, than the captain of an Atlantic liner can linger in his ocean-race. The huge engine revolves incessantly; the examiner's mark-sheet slowly fills up hour by hour till it looks like a banker's ledger; some fifty or a hundred candidates get into groups, of Jones, Smith, Brown, etc., or else Nos. 7695, 7696, 7697, etc., and soon Jones, Smith, Brown are labeled for life.

What a farce to call this examination! Any sensible man who wanted to engage a confidential secretary, or a literary assistant, or a man to send on some responsible mission, would not trust to a mark-sheet so mechanical, so hurried. He would see each candidate once or twice alone for an hour or two, talk quietly to him, get him to talk quietly, leave him to write a short piece, set