SETTING examination papers is never an easy task.
We would always say that an examination paper should be highly discriminatory. Is this an easy thing to do in reality? Withall schools and teachers in Singapore being highly stressed to produce good passes for their students in themajor examinations like the PSLE, 'O' and 'A' level exams and even in the polytechnics' and universities' examinations,you will find that teachers are drilling the students in all areas where likely questions will appear.
Would parents want a paper where 60 per cent of the students can score 100 marks? In this case, how can we tell whothe very good students are?
We would love a paper where, say, for example, 30 per cent of the questions could be solved by 30 per cent of thetop students and 30 per cent could be solved by every student. Can it be easily done? We could set trial questionsfor different groups of students, analyse the results and use them for future groups of students.
But there are so many variables involved. Teachers could be told to emphasise certain topics, teaching methods forsuch topics have become more superior, students are becoming smarter, etc.
I am not saying that setting very difficult questions is good. On the contrary, if most students obtain 0 mark forthe examinations, you will not be able to know who the very weak students are.
I am sure the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board is doing the needful, but sometimes weird results canstill occur. If so, moderation will have to come into the picture so that we are able to identify students who are good, whoare average and who are weak.
The second issue that needs to be addressed by teachers, parents and students is the fear of failure. What is important isnot failure, but whether one is able to bounce back from failure. This is something that is not normally taught in schools.
It is always emphasised that one must pass every time and all the time. Hence, all our students are becomingnervous wrecks. Every time there is a difficult paper, a lot of students are going home 'shattered'. As parents, together,we should let our children know that passing is not everything. Doing your best is the thing to strive for.
The earlier schools understand this, the better it is for our students. Currently, the joy of learning is gone and is replacedby the fear of failure. Greater efforts must be placed in schools to inform students that there is nothing wrong with failureand to bring back the joy of learning. Are we going to throw in the towel every time we fail? Do we want our students tohave these attitudes when they go out to work?
Lim Poh Seng
Straits Times, The (Singapore)
Thursday, October 11, 2007