IN the Dean's Report we are told that the semi-annual period of examinations was shortened in order to check a "serious diminution of the time for instruction." That the expansion of the elective system had made this step necessary, no one will deny; and the scheme of groups, far from being open to criticism, is to be approved, because it allows an indefinite increase of the number of the electives and extension of the time for examinations, if the Faculty have a mind to grant it. Shortening the period for the mid-years was, therefore, a matter of expediency, and the point to be considered is whether the time gained in instruction compensates the student for its loss in review. In other words, have not the Faculty gone from one extreme to another?
Examinations may be fairly defined as coercive incentives to study, possessing no utility as mere tests, in which sense the time could undoubtedly be spent more profitably in the instructors' rooms. They exist, therefore, not as ends, but as means, and it is to be hoped that even for this purpose something better will be devised. As simple as this principle is, if understood by all, it is applied by very few of our professors. For, instead of finding questions on a paper which can be answered if one comprehends the general principles that underlie the subject, nearly all the papers are interspersed with "catch" questions, the answers to which involve details of no future value whatever.
To return to our first point, was it possible for the faithful student to be prepared for the late mid-years? "Yes," say the Faculty; "the order of examinations was announced before Christmas, allowing plenty of time for reviewing." The answer to this statement is that, though the student had known the order of examinations in September, the regular and thorough performance of his daily duty, theses, and "intellectual conversation," leaves no opportunities for reviewing; and if the Christmas recess is not actually needed for rest, why continue a useless custom? As regards the preparation for recitations and examinations, it is the experience of every student, one may safely assert, that from his reviews for examination he derives more advantage than from the same time spent in the class room, and the shorter, therefore, the interval between each examination, the more superficial will be the review. In other words, he will be forced to "cram."
Again, when a student has four examinations on four successive days, as was frequently the case during the late mid-years, it is a physical impossibility to do himself justice, - a fact that the rank-list will probably bring to light, - and not a few broke down under the pressure. This mixed system of hour and mid-year examinations is, then, very unsatisfactory, if not pernicious, in its result; and one way of getting rid of the difficulty is to have no hour examinations, and give all the marks on the mid-years and annuals, but with the time for the same reasonably extended.