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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 66.djvu/371

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367
EXAMINATIONS, GRADES AND CREDITS.

EXAMINATIONS, GRADES AND CREDITS.
By PROFESSOR J. McKEEN CATTELL,

COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY.

THE determination of individual differences, the improvement of useful traits and the assignment of men to the work for which they are fit are among the most important problems in the whole range of pure and applied science. The extraordinary growth of the material sciences with their applications during the nineteenth century requires as its complement a corresponding development of psychology. It would under existing conditions be intolerable to erect a building without regard to the quality and strength of materials, to use at random a wooden beam or a steel girder; yet we often do much this thing in selecting men for their work and adjusting them to it.

In examinations and grades we attempt to determine individual differences and to select individuals for special purposes. It seems strange that no scientific study of any consequence has been made to determine the validity of our methods, to standardize and improve them. It is quite possible that the assigning of grades to school children and college students as a kind of reward or punishment is useless or worse; its value could and should be determined. But when students are excluded from college because they do not secure a certain grade in a written examination, or when candidates for positions in the government service are selected as the result of a written examination, we assume a serious responsibility. The least we can do is to make a scientific study of our methods and results.

Grades assigned to college students have some meaning, though just what this is remains to be determined. Dr. Wissler[1] has shown that there is a decided correlation in the standing in different subjects. A man who receives a high grade in Latin is likely to receive a high grade in Greek, and almost as likely to receive a high grade in mathematics or gymnastics. This seems to indicate that the grades are assigned for moral traits, or for the general impression made by the man, as much as for ability and performance in a given subject. Professor Thorndike and his students[2] have found a similar relationship in school grades and in the New York State Regents' examinations. Professor Dexter[3] has shown that a man who is given a high


  1. 'The Correlation of Mental and Physical Tests,' Monograph Supplement to The Psychological Review, No. 16.
  2. Summarized in 'Educational Psychology,' Lemcke and Büchner, 1903.
  3. 'High Grade Men in College and Out,' Pop. Sci. Mon., March, 1903.