What kind of questions could provoke an eleven year old to write a thoughtful answer to a written paper? Some authorities still use a written response as a method of selecting children – while others use the essay or story in the event of a difficult decision.
Discuss the effect of seasons on mankind.
Your child would need to be taught to recognise the need to define the word `mankind’. He or she would also need to establish that there are four seasons. The third element is to do with what the word `effect’ means in relation to the question. Finally the word `discuss’ needs to be looked at carefully.
There are three places left in a popular grammar school. Five children all have the same final scores. Only three children can be awarded a coveted place. All eyes turn to the Head of English.
The essays are marked carefully. Strengths and weaknesses are analysed and commented on. A table is drawn up with the children listed in order of merit.
The first account is well planned, carefully written with thoughtful paragraphs. There is a clear attempt at a discussion on how people react to the four seasons. The child brings in a surprising point that she has lived in another country where the seasons are not so well defined as in England.
The last essay is a spirited and imaginative description of how cave dwellers lived thousands of years ago. Changes in vegetation and food are examined. The role of hunting through the seasons is explored. The value of fire is discussed.
The Head of English has a clear mandate. The best possible candidate must be selected. The child who answered the question must win a place. The child who understood the question but chose to interpret how to answer the question in a different manner has to be penalised.
Is this fair?