The Chinese Civil Service Exam
The current round of final school year exams have now been sat, and the results dispensed to eager sweaty students. As with each exam round there has been the usual chorus of hubris and backslapping by ministers over the improvement in the pass rates, and criticism from educational experts and industry leaders that the exams are too easy and that standards are slipping.
Oxford, faced with only being able to offer a few hundred places to the several thousand medical students who have met the exam grade requirements, is to reintroduce an entrance exam; designed to test candidates’ reasoning and practical application of knowledge.
This exam has in the past provided some fine examples of applied knowledge, no matter how limited that knowledge was.
In one year the question was asked; “write all you know about the role that Sir Thomas Fairfax played during the Civil War”. One hapless candidate, who felt that his knowledge was somewhat lacking in this area, wrote nothing. He was awarded 100%, and offered a place; he had answered the question with precise accuracy and written all that he knew, nothing!
I would like to offer my own solution to the problem of selecting the best candidates. This method was used by the Chinese Civil Service, several thousand years ago, when selecting candidates.
Place the candidate in a room for 24 hours; with a desk, pen and an unlimited supply of paper. Ask them to write all they know about everything.
Now that should produce some interesting answers.