Tuesday, March 30, 2010

First Look at the National Exams

So, Jon found examples of the Bhutanese national exams online. They're national exams that everyone in 12th, 10th, and 8th grade takes every year, and people's performance in them basically dictates their lives - you fail them, you'll get kicked out of school, and getting kicked out of school and thus not being able to find a job is the number one complaint we hear from people we talk to around here. Also, only the best students get to stay in the government schools, so even not doing well enough can screw you over if your parents aren't rich enough.

So anyway, Jon and I are tasked with getting our kids to perform well on these things. And, by God, do they look terrifying. Here's the English exam. The first 2 tasks, from part A, are to write an argumentative essay and a short story. They have 2.5 hours to take this test - writing a good essay and a good short story in that time would alone be very challenging. Then we go onto multiple-choice questions with easily confusable answers followed by college-level questions asking you to discourse on the features and inner workings of language itself.

The next section would be easy for any native speaker but insanely difficult for anyone not a native speaker. I can't explain why "It is time you disposed of those jeans" is correct; it's just a colloquial way of speaking that I grew up with. It would be the easiest thing in the world to get things like of/away confused; I know from experience with Spanish that prepositions just don't make any sense to anyone. This is followed by a vocabulary test containing words like "dearth" that I doubt most Americans know. Fortunately, the next section about rewriting sentences doesn't appear too difficult, but then we end with an editing section. Let me just say that this short passage is far better than almost any piece of writing any of my students has written; if anyone turned in a paper like that I would be ecstatic. Let me repeat again: these students are not native speakers. This test is absurd.

As for the math test, my first impression was that, though it's really straightforward (except for that proof by induction question on page 5, even easy proofs are dynamic and require a different sort of mentality to do, a very different than the Bhutanese learn-by-copying mentality), it was really long and requires a lot of different skills and therefore was pretty hard. Then I saw that the last 2 pages were filled with formulas for the test taker to freely peruse, and all my sympathy melted away. Bah.

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