Carl Sagan - David Lodge - A S Neill - George Carlin - Charles Caleb - Paul Nurse - Samuel Johnson - Neal Stephenson - Rab C Nesbitt TV - Dispatches TV -
If you take a look at science in its everyday function, of course you find that scientists run the gamut of human emotions and personalities and character and so on. But there’s one thing that is really striking to the outsider, and that is the gauntlet of criticism that is considered acceptable or even desirable. The poor graduate student at his or her Phd oral exam is subjected to a withering crossfire of questions that sometimes seem hostile or contemptuous; this from the professors who have the candidate’s future in their grasp. The students naturally are nervous; who wouldn’t be? True, they’ve prepared for it for years. But they understand that at that critical moment they really have to be able to answer questions. So in preparing to defend their theses, they must anticipate questions; they have to think, ‘Where in my thesis is there a weakness that someone else might find? – because I sure better find it before they do, because if they find it and I’m not prepared, I’m in deep trouble.’ Carl Sagan, Skeptical Inquirer 19:1:1995, 'Wonder and Skepticism’
Four times, under our educational rules, the human pack is shuffled and cut – at eleven-plus, sixteen-plus, eighteen-plus and twenty-plus – and happy is he who comes top of the deck on each occasion, but especially the last. This is called Finals, the very name of which implies that nothing of importance can happen after it. David Lodge, Changing Places
If we have to have an exam at 11, let us make it one for humour, sincerity, imagination, character – and where is the examiner who could test such qualities? A S Neill, letter to Daily Telegraph 1973
I was thinking about how people seem to read the Bible a whole lot more as they get older; then it dawned on me – they’re cramming for their final exam. George Carlin
Examinations are formidable even to the best prepared, for the greatest fool may ask more than the wisest man can answer. Charles Caleb Colton, 1780-1832, Lacon, 1820
I was never very good at exams, having a poor memory and finding the examination process rather artificial, and there never seemed to be enough time to follow up things that really interested me. Paul Nurse
Fraud and falsehood only dread examination. Truth invites it. Samuel Johnson
They gave him an intelligence test. The first question on the math part had to do with boats on a river: Port Smith is 100 miles upstream of Port Jones. The river flows at 5 miles per hour. The boat goes through water at 10 miles per hour. How long does it take to go from Port Smith to Port Jones? How long to come back?
Lawrence immediately saw that it was a trick question. You would have to be some kind of idiot to make the facile assumption that the current would add or subtract 5 miles per hour to or from the speed of the boat. Clearly, 5 miles per hour was nothing more than the average speed. The current would be faster in the middle of the river and slower at the banks. More complicated variations could be expected at bends in the river. Basically it was a question of hydrodynamics, which could be tackled using certain well-known systems of differential equations. Lawrence dove into the problem, rapidly (or so he thought) covering both sides of ten sheets of paper with calculations. Along the way, he realized that one of his assumptions, in combination with the simplified Navier Stokes equations, had led him into an exploration of a particularly interesting family of partial differential equations. Before he knew it, he had proved a new theorem. If that didn't prove his intelligence, what would?
Then the time bell rang and the papers were collected. Lawrence managed to hang onto his scratch paper. He took it back to his dorm, typed it up, and mailed it to one of the more approachable math professors at Princeton, who promptly arranged for it to be published in a Parisian mathematics journal.
Lawrence received two free, freshly printed copies of the journal a few months later, in San Diego, California, during mail call on board a large ship called the USS Nevada. The ship had a band, and the Navy had given Lawrence the job of playing the glockenspiel in it, because their testing procedures had proven that he was not intelligent enough to do anything else. Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon
I got him a four-pack of Carling Special for failing his O-Level prelims. Rab C Nesbitt s1e1: Work, Rab in kitchen, BBC 1990
It’s that time of year again. Millions of students are taking exams. Pressures on them and the education system are stronger than ever and the strains are beginning to tell. And it’s not just the students bending the rules. From primary school to university our students are some of the most tested in the world. But what if the results of those tests can’t be trusted? Dispatches: Exams: Cheating the System, Channel 4 2015
Trick #1 is played when children start primary school … to make children seem less bright than they really are by marking them down. That way they’ll look as though they’ve made lots of progress. ibid.