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  1. #1
    Lay the coin on my tongue SilkRoad's Avatar
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    Default America, exams, multiple choice, European perceptions...

    I am Canadian, but I work in England for an organisation which offers qualifications relating to speech and drama. They also have an international presence as they offer examinations around the world.

    My opinionated boss - and others in the company, to be fair - have been heard to express the opinion that "America is the only country in the world that does not have an educational system based on examinations." The received wisdom seems to be that any and all tests at any level in America are based on multiple-choice. This is one rationale given for the fact that we haven't particularly succeeded in having a presence in the US. Apparently Americans just aren't interested in exam-based qualifications because they don't believe in exams.

    I know that there is a majority of Americans on this board, so I thought I'd ask for your opinion if there is some truth in this. I would have thought that the Canadian and US educational systems were fairly similar - but actually I'm really not sure. My exams in Canada were sometimes multiple-choice, but especially at higher levels, it was usually a mixture of multiple-choce and free answers. It is also 15 years since I graduated from high school and more than 10 since I finished university.

    As much as I love Europe, I think it is also worth noting that (sadly) the average European loathes Americans and think they're all uneducated, ignorant, and fundamentally annoying and dumb. So there are a lot of weird stereotypes about America and Americans going around. I find myself sometimes in the odd position of being a Canadian who ends up defending Americans against the vitriol that Europeans like to heap on them.

    I would really like to know what you guys think about this, though I'd also really like something more nuanced and informative about the educational system in the US than "well of course all Europeans hate us"
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  2. #2
    Klingon Warrior Princess Patches's Avatar
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    What level of education are we talking about? Thanks to Bush, and his 'No Child Left Behind'... Highschool in America is entirely about examinations. I was a Secondary Education major for some time, meaning that I was shadowing teachers... I constantly heard things like, "Oh we have to skip that chapter because it's not on the exam", or "We have to teach it this way, because that's how it is on the test." Standardized exams are literally shaping the way things are taught, because teacher's feel as if they must "teach to the test". Granted - The exams at THIS level are mostly multiple choice.

    As for college... Everything is exams. Most of my courses grades were determined almost solely by exams. And none of the exams in my field - Biology/Chem/Physic - EVER had multiple choice questions. Things are the same thus far in grad school. Most of my courses are 100% based on exams. There are a lot of standardized exams in college, too, dependent upon your major. There are entrance exams for most grad school programs and med school.

    Where did you or your boss get the impression that our educational system is not exam based? Thats all it is.
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    I don't understand. I made a perfect score on the AP Lit exam my senior year of high school and it was beaucoup writing.

    My exams in college were rarely multiple choice, and even the ones that were also had written sections.

    Does he mean "not exams based" like people in Western Europe go to college for free if they score right on exams, and we have to fucking pay for it?

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    We take tests all the time, btw. Starting like in kindergarten.

    What a bunch of shit.

  5. #5
    Lay the coin on my tongue SilkRoad's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Patches View Post

    Where did you or your boss get the impression that our educational system is not exam based? Thats all it is.
    Not me. My boss, and others here. I thought "America is the only country is the world that does not have an educational system based on exams" was likely to be an exaggeration...at the very least.

    Quote Originally Posted by Marmie Dearest View Post
    Does he mean "not exams based" like people in Western Europe go to college for free if they score right on exams, and we have to fucking pay for it?
    You might want to explain what you mean by that...?

    I'm assuming that my boss's assessment is a knee-jerk anti-American thing (whether or not she realises it.) However, I'm hoping we can avoid knee-jerk reactions in this discussion. (faint hope)
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    Lay the coin on my tongue SilkRoad's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Patches View Post
    Granted - The exams at THIS level are mostly multiple choice.
    Maybe that's what this is about. I don't think Europeans do much multiple choice. But I still don't think that warrants the "Americans don't do exams" description.
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    Klingon Warrior Princess Patches's Avatar
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    I think that's mostly because of the sheer amount of man-power it would take to grade EVERY SINGLE highschool student in the country's standardized exams, on top of the fact that the majority of students take the SAT, too. There is just no feasible way to manually grade every single exam. Multiple choice is the only way a machine can do it. But for the AP exams, or any exams administered by teachers.... They're rarely multiple choice. Or, as Marm already said - They are both multiple choice and written exams. (The SAT also has a written section).

    Yeah... I'd say your boss just has a really skewed perception of what the American educational system is like. Exams are everything. And it got worse when G.W. Bush was in office, because he put in place a bill called "No Child Left Behind", which was basically about using standardized exams at every level of K-12 education to make sure students are where they should be academically. It's largely considered to be ineffective, and more of a hindrance than a help.
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  8. #8
    Lay the coin on my tongue SilkRoad's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Patches View Post
    I think that's mostly because of the sheer amount of man-power it would take to grade EVERY SINGLE highschool student in the country's standardized exams, on top of the fact that the majority of students take the SAT, too. There is just no feasible way to manually grade every single exam. Multiple choice is the only way a machine can do it. But for the AP exams, or any exams administered by teachers.... They're rarely multiple choice. Or, as Marm already said - They are both multiple choice and written exams. (The SAT also has a written section).

    Yeah... I'd say your boss just has a really skewed perception of what the American educational system is like. Exams are everything. And it got worse when G.W. Bush was in office, because he put in place a bill called "No Child Left Behind", which was basically about using standardized exams at every level of K-12 education to make sure students are where they should be academically. It's largely considered to be ineffective, and more of a hindrance than a help.
    I agree with you about her assessment. It was way too general, for one thing. Your comment about manpower/grading all those exams is a good point, actually.

    I think this is just her way of dealing with the fact that we've not really made inroads over there.

    Can you explain why this Bush initiative has been considered largely ineffective? I am curious about that.
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  9. #9
    Senior Member Lucas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SilkRoad View Post

    Can you explain why this Bush initiative has been considered largely ineffective? I am curious about that.
    Because functionally nothing has changed, except to put a larger load on teachers, and bend curricula around exams designed for the lowest common denominator.

    One unfortunate fact for my school is that NCLB allows schools to do not meet adequate yearly progress (AYP) to transfer students to those that did. And sense in my district my school was the only one that did, we got about 200 new students last year, putting us at 1650 students in a building designed for 1500, and needing nine new teachers, which a lack of budget means we cannot get.

    Basically, NCLB imposed extra demands, but completely failed to help schools meet those demands.
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    I do believe that multiple-choice exams have gotten way out of hand at the high-school and lower-level undergraduate college levels (i.e. first 2 years of college). To be honest, it was baffling how many multiple-choice exams I took during my first 2 years of college. I went to a community college and a lot of times I wouldn't even buy the book - I would just take notes from the lectures, look stuff up on my own if I wanted more information, and then get an A- on the exam. If I did have a book, I could (if I wanted) just memorize the "key words" and key concepts and ace the exam. It really can be ridiculous in some classes.

    What you have to know is that it's largely dependent on the individual professor/teacher. The very best professors that I had were the ones who required you to answer open-ended questions and to do some critical thinking. I'm a firm believer that people don't learn much by memorizing key words and filling in bubbles. A monkey could do that. That's not learning. And I'm also a firm believer (call me cynical) that this is a large part of the reason that we have college graduates who really aren't very educated at all.

    On the other hand, it's possible to have people who are educated and who have never stepped foot in a college classroom. College is not the only place where education, knowledge, and an open mind can be obtained.

    It's also quite apparent that our education system does require some overhauling. We could perform much better in relation to other nations in this area. Something in the educational system is wrong and it needs to be fixed. I'll admit that. With all of this said, I turn to this:

    As much as I love Europe, I think it is also worth noting that (sadly) the average European loathes Americans and think they're all uneducated, ignorant, and fundamentally annoying and dumb. So there are a lot of weird stereotypes about America and Americans going around. I find myself sometimes in the odd position of being a Canadian who ends up defending Americans against the vitriol that Europeans like to heap on them.
    To have a viewpoint like this is, well, "uneducated, ignorant, and fundamentally annoying and dumb." People who make statements like that with a broad stroke of the brush are doing the very things that they think others are guilty of. First of all, not all Americans are uneducated, ignorant, and dumb. If this were the case, we wouldn't have corporations and innovators leading the way in their industries, etc, etc, ad finitum. Simply put, we wouldn't be where we are today if all of us were dumb. That's not to say we have it perfect here - I just discussed above one of the many areas where we need improvement. We just had a horrible violent act happen on the streets of Tucson, etc. There are things that need to be fixed here, no doubt. But, to say that we're all stupid is just STUPID!

    Secondly, there are ignorant and uneducated people in every nation. To me, being educated is an outlook, an attitude, a curiosity to want to know what is going on. Again, just because 100% of people in a nation have been through college and had to answer "open ended" questions does not make those people smart or educated on a grand scale. They can still be ignorant. I've met people from many nations and people are people wherever you go. Some are educated, some aren't. Some are ignorant, some aren't.

    Thirdly, tell your friends that education isn't the sole measure of a man. They are apprently measuring men by the education level they have attained. There are people in this world who are indeed ignorant and uneducated (even dumb) on a lot of issues, yet they still make big differences in their neighborhoods, maybe they adopt children and give them a decent upbringing, they make good friends, they help others, etc.

    In summary, the measure of a man has nothing to do with whether he took multiple-choice or open-ended exams. Being uneducated, ignorarant, and dumb are also not a direct result of which type of exams you took. If you have a curiosity about you, you will become educated on your own and you won't remain ignorant or dumb. It's a personal choice. The multiple choice exams essentially "allow students to be lazy". It makes passing a college class and getting a degree fairly easy. You don't have to work super hard, you don't have to be super curious, you don't have to dig super deep. You can show up to class, give it a 50% effort, text on your cell phone while in class, skip class all the time, etc. We've allowed ourselves to be lazy in the classroom. But being educated, ignorant, or dumb is an individual thing. It's not an American thing, a European thing, or a Canadian thing.
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