Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/561

This page has been validated.

him to do a piece of actual work, try him backward and forward in spontaneous, unexpected ways, as the quality of each candidate seemed to suggest. He would not burden himself with more than four or five candidates at a time. At the end of a week, a sensible man could perfectly make up his mind which of the four or five was the best fitted for the particular work required, and he would almost certainly be right. Nothing of this is possible in the official examination. The "rules" are stricter than those of a prison. There is absolutely no "discretion." Discretion might let in the demon of Favoritism. The candidates are often numbered and ticketed like prisoners, to avoid the disclosure even of names. The precise number of papers is prescribed, and their preposterous multiplication leaves the examiner about one minute for each page of manuscript. With one or two hundred candidates to get through in a week or ten days, the examination is really like the inspection of a regiment. The uniform and accoutrements must conform to the regulation standard.

It is supposed that examiners are masters of the situation and have a large range for a "free hand." It is not so. The examiner's mind runs into grooves, and a highly skilled class have sorted and surveyed the possible field. In each subject or book there are only available, in practice, some few hundreds of possible "questions." The system of publishing examination papers, and close study of the questions over many years, have taught a body of experts to reduce, classify, and tabulate these. So many become stock questions, so many others are excluded as having been set last year, etc.; and in the result a skilled examinee, and still more a skilled crammer, can pick out topics enough to make certain of passing with credit. Knowledge as such, and knowledge to answer papers, are quite different things. Student and examinee read books on quite different plans, if they wish to gain knowledge, or if they are thinking of the examination. The memory is entirely different. The examinee's memory is a ten-day memory, very sharp, clear, methodical for the moment, like the memory cultivated by a busy lawyer, full of dates, of three different courses, of four distinct causes, of five divisions of that, and six phases of the other. It is a memory deliberately trained to carry a quantity of things with sharp edges, in convenient order, for a very short period of time. The feats which the examinee can perform are like the feats of a conjurer with bottles and knives. The examinee himself can not tell how he does it. He acquires a diabolical knack of spotting "questions" in the books he reads. He gains a marvelous flair for what will catch the examiner's attention. As he studies subject after subject his eye glances like a vulture on the "points." Examination is a system of "points." What has no "points" can not be examined.