Friday, June 19, 2009

Would You Get a Baccalauréat if You Were a Student in France?

 
French high school students must obtain the baccalauréat if they are to have any chance of getting into university. Almost all teenagers have to write the nationwide standardized tests at the same time. About half of them pass.

Everyone has to write the philosophy exam, which was held yesterday. Charles Bremner tells us what questions were on the exam [Stress test for France's young philosophers]. You have four hours to answer one of the questions. How would you do?
If you were in the economics and social science stream, the questions were ....
  1. What is gained by exchange?
  2. Does technological development transform mankind?
If you were one of the science students the questions were ....
  1. Is it absurd to desire the impossible?
  2. Are there questions which no science can answer?
If you were in the literature stream the questions were ....
  1. Does objectivity in history suppose impartiality in the historian?
  2. Does language betray thought?
To me the questions indicate that France expects more of its potential university students than we do in Canada. We used to have standardized province-wide exams in Ontario but they were abolished 40 years ago. As far as I know we never had a test that everyone in the entire country had to write.

I don't think such a test has ever been popular in the USA.


[Hat Tip: Uncertain Principles: Answers Matter More than Questions]

4 comments :

  1. In Alberta we have the Provincial Diploma Exams (PDEs) (at least I think that's what they're called...). Students take them every 3 grades, 3,6,9, and 12.

    When I took them I recall the questions being less philosophical but probably of comparable difficulty.

    One interesting effect of the PDEs is that it forces schools to calibrate their grading properly. Apparently Saskatchewan had no equivalent exams and the schools ended up with grade inflation as a result. Once I started at the UofA I know of a few instances of Saskatchewan students with high school marks in the mid to high 90's (and some Uni scholarships as a result) who then became decidedly more average UofA students.

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  2. maybe...

    but to my eye, these questions seem ripe for bullshit. These un-falsifiable questions must be more about demonstrating writing proficiency than the actual answer.

    If they wanted interesting science questions, they might have asked things more along the line of: "Propose an explanation for the relationship of electromagnetism and gravity," or "If you were to invent an anti-cancer drug, describe how it would function in the human body and given human physiology, why it would be more effective than current drugs." Those would be much more interesting questions.

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  3. Steve, I agree about the BS (they'd be great questions for arts students!). But seriously, in grade 12 if you asked me
    "Propose an explanation for the relationship of electromagnetism and gravity," or "If you were to invent an anti-cancer drug, describe how it would function in the human body and given human physiology, why it would be more effective than current drugs."

    I wouldn't be able to give you anything but BS!

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  4. Steve says,

    but to my eye, these questions seem ripe for bullshit. These un-falsifiable questions must be more about demonstrating writing proficiency than the actual answer.

    I'm perfectly capable of distinguishing bullshit from serious answers with well-reasoned arguments. I do it all the time.

    I assume that the people who grade these philosophy exams are also capable. What makes you think they aren't?

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