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Vernon Munroe Concludes Suggestions on Tutorial System With Discussion of the Nature of the General Examination


The following is the third and final article of a series by Vernon Munroe, Jr. '31, a member of the student council committee which conducted a survey of the Tutorial System in 1931, former secretary to President Conant, and now a third year law students.

Another advantage to be derived from the installation of the honor and the pass degree remains to be discussed. This is the effect that the segregation of honor candidates into a group apart from the pass students should have on the development of the general examinations.

A clear understanding of the part the Tripos (corresponding to our general examination) plays in England is revealing, not because everything English is good, but because the tutorial system has reached its full state of development portance of the Tripos has been fully is an honorable and seriously considered position. The Cambridge Tripos contains eleven three hour comprehensive examinations of the essay type, half of which are taken at the end of the second year and half at the end of the third. (The course is only three years.) Being only prepared for the honor candidate, they are admirably suited to his demands. Thus they perform well their function of testing ability. But more important than this is the influence the Tripos Examinations exert on the student's entire course of study at the University. He is aware that they ill be the sole criteria by which his degree is awarded, and consequently the quality of his work is shaped by these examinations. Since they emphasize thinking and imaginative ability as well as mastery of the subject matter, they complete the student's work along these lines. The value of lectures however, has not gone unrecognized. A carefully integrated system of courses has been constructed to assist the student in covering his field. And in spite of the myth to the contrary, lectures are attend by the Cambridge undergraduate with a fever only to be excelled by the probation student at Harvard. But no course credits are awarded and so the attention of the student is not diverted from the Tripos examination.

In some departments at Harvard such as History and Literature, the general examination has played an important part in raising the quality of the honor student's work. But in others it has been less successful for two reasons.

In the first place, the quality of the general examinations has often suffered from the necessity of their being prepared to suit the requirements of both honor and non-honner men. The results of an investigation of this subject, under taken by the student Council Committee in 1931, were mentioned in a previous article. It was pointed out that in general the needs of the honor candidate require what has been called a "speculative" examination while a "factual" examination is better for the Medicare student. Some of the examiners in 1931 expressed the opinion that it was extremely difficult, if not impossible, to set a general examination which would fairly test both types of students. This for many instances, in a sacrifice of the interests of the honor candidate. The examination under the present system must very with different subjects. Yet it seems very doubtful whether the en general examination can set as high stand. ard for honor work as the Tripos in England as long as it has to be prepared for the mediocre student.

In the second place, the influence of the general examination has not, on account of course requirements, been so great as its significance deserves. There has been in the past a reluctance to give up the system of course credits before a different method of instruction had proved itself practicable to American conditions. This has had some unfortunate results. On the one hand, course requirements have often seriously interrupted the student's work with his tutor. On the other, the nature of course examinations tends to discourage, to some extent, the kind of work the general examination should stimulate. Of course, any such generalization as this is dangerous, because course examinations vary greatly according to the propensities of the professor and the character of the subject. But certain defects that some of them possess are fairly evident. Being chiefly restricted to lecture material, they often require very little reading. The subject matter is apt to be so well tabulated by the lecturer that the student in preparing for the examination becomes unaccustomed to organizing and thinking about his material for himself. Furthermore, courses sometimes engender the habit of regarding an artificially delimited portion of a field to the exclusion of related subjects. All these factors which check the influence of the general examination are said to have been greatly altered by recent reductions in course requirements. As to this, only those close to tutorial instruction are qualified to judge. Unless the situation has greatly changed, however, it seems to me that the emphasis on courses should still be reduced as I shall indicate below.

Now, while course requirements for honor men can be completely abolished, if desirable, under the present system, the quality of the general examinations cannot be raised without the installation of an Honor and Pass Degree. And since a student's thinking is ordinarily shaped by the examinations confronting him, the general examinations must be improved if the objective of the tutorial system is to be achieved. It is for this reason that I think that even aside from the benefits to be derived from reducing tutorial instruction among the mediocre men, the Honor and Pass Degree should be instituted.

If this were done, no course requirements for honor candidates after the Sophomore year, in my opinion, ought to be required. The general examination prepared only for honor students should be ideally constituted to set the right standard for the advanced student's work. Examinations in courses designed for mediocre men would not do this so well and would only serve to take the honor student's attention away from learning by his own efforts. In addition, after two years of a full quota of courses, a student is likely to have acquired the "course" attitude, and this can only be changed by a vital reduction in requirements. Holding the general examinations at the end of both the Junior and Senior years, as is now done, in certain departments, and increasing their number would supplant any necoealty for course examinations.

This does not mean that there is a conflict between course lectures and the tutorial system. There is only a conflict between course requirements and the tutorial system. A tutorial student would be hard beset if he did not avail himself of course lectures. Moreover, the honor student is not likely to disregard perhaps, the greatest opportunity the college offers--namely that of listening to the lectures of brilliant scholars.

Finally, such a scheme would fuse the tutorial and course methods of instruction into a well integrated system. The function of the tutor would be to guide and stimulate the student in his work. Course lectures would provide the student with information and some contact with great teachers. The capstone of the system, the general examination, would be the sanction inducing the student to take the true University attitude both in regard to his courses and his study under his tutor

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