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Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Eleven Plus and Napoleon

We have a vision of a statistician. He or she is very good at collecting data. We are then informed about how the data is distributed. We know, for example, that ability is predicted off a normal curve of distribution. The curve suggests that few people will attain full marks and few will attain very low marks. Children with good scores will probably pass the eleven plus. Children with average or below average scores may find the whole eleven plus experience a study in frustration.

The statisticians who look at all the eleven plus data do have to go through the process of harvesting the data. They then have to use the information in a meaningful manner.
Before questions are set in the actual eleven plus the type and quality of the questions have to be used with a number of children. This sample of data is then used to make inferences about how useful the data is.

If 98% of children were able to workout the answer to an easy question then the question may not be used in the eleven plus.

If the opposite of short is tall, what is the opposite of night?

We would expect a large number of bright children to answer this question with the right answer. The statistician may then be able to inform the co-ordinators of the test that the question should not be used because too many children would probably find it too easy.

All mums and dads will, however, remember the story of Napoleon. When he was banished to Elba he told his friends that he would return with violets. One day he broke his parole and reached Frejus. A group of women collected quickly with bunches of violets – which they then sold. The shibboleth was, “Do you like violets?”

If the answer was “Oui,” the person was known not to be a confederate.

If the answer was “Eh bien,” then everyone knew that he or she was an adherent or supporter of Napoleon.

We then could reach a question that may stretch a few eleven plus minds:

If the opposite of short is tall, what is the Napoleonic opposite of “Oui”?

The statistician may, possibly, need to advise the co-ordinators of the test that there was the odd question that may appear a little too complex even for seasoned eleven plus children.

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