Now That Is One Tough Exam

On 12/29/2011, in Formal Education, by Jordan Wilson

Many readers are on vacation after final exams.

Exams are usually a difficult process. The tests highly challenging.

Hopefully you learned things that will help in life.

When faced with your next nightmarish test, think of the students at King William’s College.

Each year they face an exam where 5% is considered a good score. Yes, only five percent.

Now that is one tough exam! 

King William’s College 

Annually, students at King William’s College on the Isle of Man write a General Knowledge Paper.

Originating in 1904, the exam used to be mandatory. But in today’s more sophisticated education system (heavy sarcasm), it is now voluntary.

Actually, students write the same exam twice.

The first time is sight unseen, the day before commencement of Christmas vacation. The second time is the same exam, written on their return to school in January.

General Knowledge Paper

The General Knowledge Paper is definitely a challenge.

The paper consists of 18 sets of 10 questions, each set covering a particular theme (which in many cases is far from obvious). Cracking the theme has long been one of the attractions to devotees of the GKP.

And the grades on the initial sitting are dismal.

The questions are very hard and often cryptic, and pupils got hardly any questions right first time: five percent was considered a good score!

Point of the Exam

What is the point of an exam when 5% is considered a good score?

What does not knowing something teach you?

Well, it teaches you to learn.

As the old saying goes, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Good advice. And the real point of the exam.

General Knowledge Paper Motto

The Paper’s motto is, “Scire ubi aliquid invenire possis ea demum maxima pars eruditionis est”.

In English, “To know where you can find anything is, after all, the greatest part of erudition.”

The idea is that students research the questions they did not know. That they actually learn on their own volition solutions to open issues and actively expand their knowledge base.

And those that sit the exam do seem to expand their knowledge. According to Wikipedia:

It is well-known to be highly difficult, a common score being just two correct answers from the list of several hundred. The best scores are 40 to 50 for the unseen test and about 270 out of 360 for the second sitting.

From 10% for the best students to 75% in a month. That is a bit of learning.

How Do You Stack Up?

Curious as to how you would do on the exam?

Here is the King William’s College 2011 General Knowledge Paper.

Sight unseen, I would be pleased with two correct answers.

Why I Like The Exam Concept

As a Student

As a student, I would come to appreciate that someone taught me the value of performing my own research. How to learn on my own.

This is a crucial skill later in life. When writing professional exams that require self-study, researching projects at work, analyzing investments, and so on.

As an Employer

And, as an employer, I would be very happy interviewing King William’s College graduates who wrote the exam.

Not because they could tell me what disaster befell the Asch Building in 1911 (Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of the city of New York, by the way and nothing I knew without googling).

But one, because they had the fortitude to take the test and challenge themselves. That tells me something about their character and what attitude they will bring to the company.

And two, because they learned a great lesson in how to effectively research solutions for information they did not know. A skill that is in demand by any employer.

The General Knowledge Paper may be an onerous exercise. One that requires students to spend Christmas vacation studying. It may seem a waste of time in the short term. And I am certain many students hate sitting the exam.

But I am certain that these same students will greatly appreciate writing this Paper over time.

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