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#959325 - Fri Jan 04 2013 09:29 PM From a 1953 Exam Paper
bloomsby Offline
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These questions are taken from a General Paper forming part of the 1953 Entrance and Scholarship Examination to Girton and Newnham Colleges, Cambridge. (At the time those were the only women's colleges in the University of Cambridge and competition for entry - let alone a scholarship - was very intense. Women only made up about 10% of the undergraduate population at Cambridge at the time).

Each subject set its own General Paper and these questions are from that for candidates offering Modern Languages. They had to answer four questions in three hours. Here is a selection drawn from the total of 21 questions.

- "Societies always decay from the top". Discuss.

- "Truth and wit are rather shocking virtues which should appear in public only if they are decently veiled". Discuss.

- Define and discuss sensibility and sentimentality.

- What value do you attach to historical novels?

- Consider the position and achievements of women in one of the following: (a) the diplomatic service; (b) the law; (c) architecture.

At first sight the questions appear either like an invitation to shoot one's mouth off or extremely hard. I assume that what the examiners were looking for was the ability to produce a well structured piece of writing (under time pressure) and say something that went beyond clichés. If candidates were able to say something really well informed and intelligent as well, that would presumably have been quite a bonus.

Incidentally, I'm tickled by the notion that 'truth and wit are rather shocking virtues ... [unless] decently veiled'.

---------

Thoughts on the kinds of questions?



Edited by bloomsby (Fri Jan 04 2013 09:29 PM)

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#959393 - Sat Jan 05 2013 11:23 AM Re: From a 1953 Exam Paper [Re: bloomsby]
satguru Offline
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If someone was willing to publish it (I will waive the payment) I'd have a go at one or two. I'd say they were a way to sort out the opinionated from the informed and educated, as without the need for a wide knowledge of history just the approach to the essays would be a good indication of their future performance or potential.
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#959429 - Sat Jan 05 2013 01:06 PM Re: From a 1953 Exam Paper [Re: satguru]
dsimpy Offline
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I agree that these broad ranging subjects were intended as an opportunity for the candidate to show how they marshalled an argument and how fluidly they were able to write.

I had a quick look in my files to check if I still had the General Paper for the Oxford entrance exam I sat back in 1975. Oddly, I do still have all of the four subject papers (Eng. Lit) I took, but the General Paper is now missing. frown

I can't remember the subject of each of the general essays I wrote (not surprisingly!), but I do remember authoring a scathing polemic against the ethos of public school privilege that Oxford and Cambridge were (are) associated with, and arguing for a more inclusive social engagement. I had a do-or-die, kamikaze streak back then (and still!) that possibly had to do with being ambivalent about whether I really wanted to go to Oxford at all, as well as a defensiveness about what sort of chance I had - coming from a run-of-the-mill state grammar school - of being offered a place anyway! smilee

The selectors must have appreciated my frankness - either that, or I got the sympathy vote! - because I got offered a place (at Balliol). I don't think they took my arguments much on board though, then or since! smile
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#959450 - Sat Jan 05 2013 04:55 PM Re: From a 1953 Exam Paper [Re: bloomsby]
flopsymopsy Offline
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And then there are the exams at the other end of the process. I remember my Logic Professor telling us about the friend of his who did no work whatsoever (Rowing Blue) and was faced with the Philosophy Finals question: "Do you consider that (some arcane statement)...?" He wrote "no" on the paper and left. First Class Honours. Everyone else got marks deducted for every line they wrote.

This Professor of ours was very eminent but he had only got a Third. His book, a seminal work, had been published the day before the exams and he'd been offered a Fellowship no matter what, so he had answered some question or other, drawn an picture of the invigilator, and gone to the pub. Which is where we knew he'd be if we wanted to argue that q should come before p. It never did but he always paid for the booze. smile
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#959453 - Sat Jan 05 2013 05:42 PM Re: From a 1953 Exam Paper [Re: bloomsby]
TabbyTom Offline
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Quote:
He wrote "no" on the paper and left. First Class Honours.


There used to be all sorts of stories circulating at the older English universities about people getting degrees for handing in blank scripts or scripts with no worthwhile content.

Typically, a candidate in the final honours school would have to complete a number of papers. His or her final class would depend on the average grade. So, if the final examination consisted of 10 papers, and a candidate had to get 8 alpha grades for First Class Honours, it would be technically possible to get a First by handing in eight excellent scripts and two scripts containing nothing but your name. On the whole, I don't think this is unreasonable.

Frankly, I doubt whether anyone (even a Royal) could get a degree in the twentieth century simply on the grounds of sporting ability. I any case, a rowing blue would surely prefer a "gentleman's third" or even a pass degree.
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#959454 - Sat Jan 05 2013 06:09 PM Re: From a 1953 Exam Paper [Re: TabbyTom]
bloomsby Offline
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Quote:
There used to be all sorts of stories circulating at the older English universities ...


There used to be all sorts of funny stories circulating, not just about blank or virtually blank scripts.

One of my favourite stories is about an outstanding Classicist who, on reading through his translation script before handing it in, noticed that at one point he had put an object in the nominative. Instead of correcting it, he put an asterisk and added the footnote: 'This use of the nominative is idiosyncratic and should be avoided by less able candidates.'

Another 'funny' that I heard from one of my tutors who was an examiner for one of the special subject papers told me that one candidate wrote at the very bottom of his script:

'The questions asked reveal an astonishing ignorance of recent research on this area'.

Apparently, the other examiner was very angry, but my tutor managed to calm him down.


_______


As for the stories about blank scripts and the like I'm very sceptical. In any case, by the time I took Finals there was a rule that in order to get any sort of degree at all (even a pass) candidates had to pass on all papers. I've heard from a number of sources.

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#959455 - Sat Jan 05 2013 06:10 PM Re: From a 1953 Exam Paper [Re: bloomsby]
flopsymopsy Offline
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I think the point here is that there are only two completely correct answers in logic to the question "do you consider that...?" - either yes or no. The question did not say "and give your reasons" or "justify your choice". The Rowing Blue is irrelevant really, I included it merely to explain why the guy had done no work. No doubt he had other papers in which he was not as fortunate. Or had worked harder.

That same professor set us a test where we had to answer three questions - but I could only do two. Until I realised that one question didn't make sense - it said "complete two of the following examples" but there were only two. So I wrote that I refused to answer on the grounds that the question was incorrectly phrased and that in Logic, the question or proof must be logical in itself and in the context of the language in which it was expressed otherwise it was meaningless. And, in English, saying "complete two of" implied that there were more than two from which I might choose... I got a First for that too, and the nickname "Ms Smartypants". However, I went to a university which used continuous assessment across ten courses and a thesis so I had to do a little bit more work to get my degree.
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#959459 - Sat Jan 05 2013 06:35 PM Re: From a 1953 Exam Paper [Re: bloomsby]
bloomsby Offline
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Ah well, Logic papers may have their own rules. wink

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#959620 - Mon Jan 07 2013 09:57 AM Re: From a 1953 Exam Paper [Re: bloomsby]
agony Offline

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One of our editors here will not accept "Do you know... as the format of a quiz question, for this reason - the correct answer is either "yes" or "no".

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#959627 - Mon Jan 07 2013 10:22 AM Re: From a 1953 Exam Paper [Re: TabbyTom]
dsimpy Offline
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Originally Posted By: TabbyTom


Frankly, I doubt whether anyone (even a Royal) could get a degree in the twentieth century simply on the grounds of sporting ability. I any case, a rowing blue would surely prefer a "gentleman's third" or even a pass degree.


I'm always amused by the fact that Sir Patrick Mayhew, who was Margaret Thatcher's Solicitor-General and then Attorney-General, only managed a 3rd in Jurisprudence when he was at Oxford. In the normal run of life a poor degree would rarely qualify you for the highest legal posts in the land! smilee
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#959662 - Mon Jan 07 2013 03:27 PM Re: From a 1953 Exam Paper [Re: bloomsby]
bloomsby Offline
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It used to be said that Lord Gardiner, who was Lord Chancellor from 1964-70, took a Fourth, but I can't check the accuracy of this online.

In some cases there is no relationship between degree class and success later in life.

I imagine one could also find a few cases of people who were raised in slums, managed to get scholarships to Oxbridge and also Firsts, but had undistinguished careers and died in poverty. However, colleges don't boast about such people, of course.

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#960272 - Thu Jan 10 2013 10:29 AM Re: From a 1953 Exam Paper [Re: bloomsby]
agony Offline

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You might be interested in this article about the test.

It's mostly about the mistaken assumption that since today's eighth graders couldn't pass it, it necessarily follows that educational standards have dropped. There's nothing about the authenticity of the test, but since Snopes is usually pretty good about checking these things, I'd assume that they accept it as a real test from the time.

http://www.snopes.com/language/document/1895exam.asp

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#960386 - Thu Jan 10 2013 05:04 PM Re: From a 1953 Exam Paper [Re: bloomsby]
bloomsby Offline
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Thanks for the link. Actually, this should be in the 1895 Kansas Test thread.

I have read the Snopes article and found it disappointing. It seems to be making three rather obvious points at some length:

1. Beware sensationalist headlines about standards. (Agreed) I remember that after the launch of Sputnik I in 1957 there was a lot of panicky talk about What little Ivan knows that Johnny doesn't and so on. (You don't hear that one nowadays. wink )

2. That, by comparison with today, the 1895 Kansas Test seems to point to a narrow education. (Agreed)

3. That one should not draw conclusions about educational standards on the basis of such comparisons. This is, in effect, merely a restatement of John B. Carroll's well-known dictum: [We should not be surpised if] by and large students learn, if anything, precisely what they are taught. I'm not sure about precisely but apart from that he hit the nail on the head.

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