BLUE BOOK BLUES
Two more days, and the little blue devils will begin to rampage. Whether or not students are ready for examinations, a large group of professors are. They are primed to make this year's tests a very special set. They will try to concoct something relatively new for Harvard, tutoring-proof examinations and a tutoring-proof system of grading. Of course, they won't succeed entirely--but the ingenuity of a dozen or so Harvard professors should not be under-rated. And for the incredulous student, it would be better to believe now than later.
Good examinations are a test of comprehension of material. Comprehension does not mean the ability to bounce back a list of facts or a memorized theory, but rather the ability to put the facts together or work the theory into a meaningful picture. How test this true comprehension? By requiring original thought based on the material, by requiring a variety of interpretations of the facts.
It takes a good, solid knowledge of the material to juggle it around dexterously. It requires mulling over and assimilating beforehand. The man who has spent a few nightmare hours cramming at Parker-Cramer's knows most of the essential facts. He has even had a stock interpretation of the facts handed down to him. But he cannot twist this interpretation around to answer questions shot from unexpected angles. So he resorts to building a weak bridge from the question to his stock answer, and then proceeds to pour out what he has memorized. In effect he evades the question.
Or put it this way. Facts are blocks, and with them the comprehending scholar can lay out a number of designs. On the other hand, the tutored man has the blocks; but he knows only one design. He fails when called upon to lay out any other.
It does not take supernatural intuition to detect him. He answers questions like a robot, not thinking for himself, but speaking words put into his mouth. He uses cliches like the "psychology of the business man"--Wolff's contribution to Economics A--until the grader, coming across it for the twentieth time, cannot help but see its origin. And cannot help but grade accordingly.
Strictly speaking, no one should object to this new tack taken by the professors. Nothing could be more fair. There is no invalid discrimination. The only ones who are hit are those who tutor. The student who has honestly tried and still is not able to think with originality on an examination should--hard as this may seem--get a low grade anyway. All others are not affected, for the exams are not made harder, but only more thought-provoking.
This step should please those who adopt the fruit-root attitude, who look for the cause of tutoring in fundamental faults in the Harvard system. Of course, the examination problem will have to be gone over more thoroughly in the future, for there is much to be done here. Moreover, the other half of faculty responsibility--lapses in instruction--is crying for investigation. But this step means progress in the struggle against the schools in the Square.
Tutoring is going to pay lower returns this year. The wise bird might well figure the return too low for an investment. he might also realize that the faculty has awakened, and that the examination system is on trial. Many will still have to tutor because they have been caught out in the rain. The others had better take their money to the races.