Standard Operating Procedures.

My friend Andrew has a post up on his blog that is one of the most interesting things I’ve ever read. To quote:

The season of the bac has hit France again. The word bac is the shortened name of the end-of-high-school exams, the baccalauréat. This test, instituted by none other than Napoleon, is actually a series of comprehensive exams, one in every subject. Taking them is as much a rite of passage as anything. They signal the end of high school and the first real step towards adulthood.

The tests are not technically high-school exit exams; you can finish high school and not take the bac. In fact, the bac serves as a college entrance exam — pass it and you can enroll in any French university. But this is no SAT. This is a bitch-tastically difficult series of mental ass-whoopin’s.

There is no multiple choice. Most exams consist of an essay. For instance, the philosophy exam consists of one question, and you get four hours to write up an answer. Here is this year’s question:

Does art transform our conception of reality?


Can you imagine? Can you see American testing administrators forswearing the old paradigm of standardized multiple choice testing for something that demands more critical thinking and writing skills? I don’t think I would perform particularly well, but apparently no one is expected to, that’s not the point. How cool is that?

13 responses to “Standard Operating Procedures.”

  1. I love it! Now if there were also an equivalent test to measure common sense …

  2. Now there’s an interesting thing. I think common sense is also something you can grow into. When I was young, my mum would tell you that I had absolutely not a whit of it. But now, I’m sure there are those who would say I could do with a bit less… 🙂

  3. You usually have to write 6 pages in average for that dissertation in 4 hours. You are also able to choose a text from a philosopher and debate on it with sometimes directed question.
    You usually prepare year-round for that type of exam, every 2 months or so you have an exam based on previous years’ subjects in the same conditions and the copies are given randomly to different professors who correct you anonymously. And then we talk about it blah blah blah.
    But there is a very famous case that any professor of Philosophy would talk to you about at the beginning of the school year. One time the question was “What is audacity?” – a student answered “Audacity is this.” And waited the next hour and a half required of stay in the room, gave his copy and got a 20/20. That’s the only 20 I ever heard for that subject. You always have a smarty pants who tries it again. I say it depends on the professor’s mood! Audacity would have valued him to get a 0… although if the professor gives a 0 he has to give a report on why he gave a 0 so probably a 1.
    That comment was really too long… oops!

  4. Yep, there’s always a smart-ass who doesn’t understand that what the first student did, THAT was audacity. What the smart-ass does is merely second-rate mimicry.

  5. Unfortunately, that is a yes-no question. What do the students do for the other three hours and fifty-nine minutes?

  6. Well, according to Marianne, while you have 4 hrs, you only have to stay in the room for an hour and a half, so I suppose you could meditate….

  7. The main problem with that subject is that it’s totally random and so they expect you to have an opinion on anything even things you never thought about having an opinion about before and then you have to make an “argument” about it. The time you figure the subject out, an hour has already passed at least.

  8. But you’d still have 3 hrs left, right? Plenty of time! 😉

  9. I think that’s a wonderful question, actually, one that’s open-ended enough to allow a student to show off knowledge in a variety of fields.

    I didn’t realize the bac was like this. My boys went to a French school until the 6th grade — the teaching was often wonderful, but the emphasis on things like beautiful handwriting and perfect dictees seemed so rigid; very much the opposite of a test question like this one.

    Are you going to answer it?

  10. I swear, Lily, your boys, besides being thoughtful and smart, are probably going to be the most interesting and creatively curious!

    You really know how to throw down the gauntlet! For now, I’ll say I’m thinking about it…

  11. Right now, Marie, they’re being so horrible to each other it takes my breath away. Actually, one of them is gone, on a tour with his choir, so it’s just two of them who’re being horrible.

    It’s summer, they’re not in camps, and instead of dreaming up ways to say, make money babysitting little kids or selling cupcakes, they’re dreaming up ways to really get each other’s goat.

    Thanks for letting me whine. I feel way, way better.

  12. Every time I’m feeling particularly whiney about my child, Lance says, in his most mocking voice, “Geez, Vincent, would you stop acting like a 2 yr old??!”

    Whine away, I will not mock!

  13. the answer to the question is “Yes”.

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