Lesson 86 When A Pass Ain’t Necessarily So

Lesson 86 on Why it isn’t as simple as it seems

I learnt about strategies for passing tests early on. I can remember very little of my first school except that we had a mental arithmetic test every Friday, which I dreaded.  I couldn’t calculate quickly and there wasn’t enough time. So I had to devise a way to deal with the situation. I must have been about eight.

I observed that the teacher got the ten weekly questions from a book.  I managed to see and memorise the title. I nagged my mother into buying the book, then I proceeded to learn the questions and answers off by heart. It worked. It didn’t help my grasp of maths, but it certainly improved my marks.

This taught me that to scrape a pass in something you aren’t very good at, you need to suss the system.  It won’t make you a brilliant success, or even understand the subject, but it can get you a pass.

For instance, when I was in teacher training I had a cohort of PE students, who weren’t very fond of essays.  They preferred running around outside practising various sports, at which they excelled.  But they had to pass my component of their course. So I made them study the criteria on which they would be marked and explained the implications of these by giving them concrete examples of work to grade. I made them practise how to plan an examination essay, so that it answered the question asked.

My students grouched and groaned but they had the sense to follow the instructions. They all passed.

It’s called teaching to the test and it works.

I had a clear conscience about getting my students through. They were good lads who would do a decent job. But bad people out there can use the same techniques to make sure their failing practice claws its way up to just acceptable.

The borderline between just acceptable and unsatisfactory is a highly problematic area, however detailed and exhaustive you make the criteria.

In practice it’s a dreadful nuisance failing things. As an examiner or an inspector you have to be able to justify your judgement and a fail almost always involves extra time and paperwork. Also people complain about being failed and that involves even more. It’s much easier to let people scrape through, especially if they promise convincingly to remedy matters.

It takes a brave, principled person with plenty of stamina and determination to face up to the flak of failing a powerful organisation.

Even in my lowly role I was once dragged through every step of the process right up to the House of Lords by a disgruntled individual who was convinced against all the evidence, that he should have passed a final examination.

If he hadn’t managed to do something that got him deported I imagine we’d still be arguing it out somewhere, in yet another expensive, exhausting and time-consuming forum.


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