Sunday, April 10, 2011

Why Malaysian, Or Rather, Conventional Examination System Fails

Malaysian students hate exams, and rightly so. It's probably because it doesn't reflect exactly who we are.

Our lives are laden with exams. Malaysian face their first major examination at the tender age of 12. And by 18, most Malaysians would have gone through at least three public examinations. If you're unlucky to get snubbed by matriculation entrance officer then you'd have to face STPM in your Form Six. Ironically, though these tests take only a few hours, they're meant to give schools and companies a full reflection of an individual's ability.

In the early 1980s, Paul Sackett, a psychologist at the University of Minnesota, began measuring the speed of cashiers at supermarkets. Workers were told to scan a few dozen items as quickly as possible while a scientist timed them. Not surprisingly, some cashiers were much faster than others.

Mr. Sackett had assumed that these separate measurements would generate similar rankings. Those cashiers who were fastest in the short test should also be the fastest over the long term. But instead he found a surprisingly weak correlation between the rankings, leading him to distinguish between two types of personal assessment. One measures "maximum performance": People who know they're being tested are highly motivated and focused, just like those cashiers scanning a few items while being timed.--

It's understandable why most people still prefer the conventional testing method; it's easy and time-saving, so a large quantity of candidates can be tested. It saves cost though it gives a rather speculative snap shot of a particular individual.
Consider the example above, the cashiers who knew they were being timed could amplify their performance for a short period of time, thus gaining higher ranking at the initial phase. In the long term, however, those who persevered albeit with slower hands would slowly make their way up the ranks.

The problem, of course, is that we don't reveal traits that really matter in our lives during these tests. Self-control and determination for instance, cannot be seen during these brief examinations. Yet these are exactly what employers in the real world are looking for. Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania demonstrated that, levels of grit consistently predict levels of achievement, meaning academic excellence alone doesn't make you a successful person.

Realizing the predicament faced by thousands of unemployed graduates in Malaysia, public universities all over the country started the soft skill assessment in the year 2007. It's better late than never.

But what's worrying is that even professional tests like SAT and GRE could not escape from making speculative assessment. So it is not something exclusive to Malaysian; almost all conventional testing methods used all over the world suffer the same flaw.

It is sad to see that our civilizations are built around tests of performance that fail to predict subject that really matters: what happens once the test is over.


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