AFTER all the preaching against cramming that the students of this College have heard, both through the columns of the College papers and from the desks of the recitation-room, after all the springing of examinations, avowedly done in order to prevent previous hasty preparation, and after Mr. Bain's contemptuous disparagement of what he calls "temporary adhesiveness," one would have supposed that the odious practice must have vanished wholly from the land. Yet probably never, during the existence of the College, has cramming ever been required more absolutely than at two examinations in metaphysics which have lately been given the Junior class. These examinations have been an hour in length, and the matter required has been an abstract of the portion of the book gone over previous to the examination. Now there is a way of looking at this plan so that it will appear a good one, but such a point of view is one which only one of the most ardent seekers after hidden beauties could discover. The advantage claimed is, that to give a good abstract will require a thorough knowledge of the book. The disadvantages may be summed up in the assertion that to give a good abstract of sixty closely printed pages in sixty minutes requires some of the purest cramming ever employed in Harvard College.
The way the plan works in practice is this. The men may be divided roughly into two classes, - the first consisting of those who know little or nothing about the subject, the second, of those better informed. Members of the first class calculate how many pages they can write in an hour, fill that amount of paper with headings of paragraphs, and are then ready. A consideration which gives the plan a favorable reception among this class is, that they need only find some one who has written out a good abstract and learn it, thereby saving themselves a vast amount of trouble. The case is not very different with the second class. They also calculate to a nicety how much they can possibly write in an hour. They make out their abstract, and cut it down if it is too long. They learn it carefully by heart, that the words may come as fast as they can write them, and then scribble with all possible speed for an hour. To be sure they very likely know something about the book, but that is not requisite.
This has been the method of preparation for these examinations, and when it is necessary to write so much in so short a time, and to exercise so great discrimination as to what shall be taken out of extra pages, it seems to me the only method of accomplishing in any measure what is required. These examinations demand cramming, and little else, and as such, they are grossly inconsistent with the avowed opinions of all instructors on this matter. The plan does not differ much from giving out the questions of an ordinary examination a day or two previous. The examinations amount to so little as showing the real knowledge of those examined, that, although a good deal of time is uselessly spent in preparation for them, it would be very unfair to give them any importance in determining a student's position. They are interesting as affording examples of the purest cramming. Perhaps the object in giving them was to present the evils of the practice in as striking a light as possible. If so, the plan has been a success.
A. S. T.