Thursday, September 16, 2010

Can You Pass This Test?

A student challenged me with the following question from a national test that was given early this month:
"28. With no attempt there can be no failure and with no
failure no humiliation. So our self-esteem in this world
depends entirely on what we back ourselves to be and do.
It is determined by the ratio of our actualities to our supposed
potentialities. Thus, ________________________________.
This illustrates how every rise in our levels of expectation

① the higher your expectations are, the more you will achieve
② self-esteem can be increased by lowering actualities
③ success divided by pretensions equals self-esteem
④ early failures in life may lead to happiness later in life
          ⑤ more supposed potentialities increase chances of happiness

13% of students nationwide guessed the correct answer, 3.  A guess may be the wrong word since a guess would mean that 1 in 5 (or 20%) students got the right answer. I have attached a few passages/questions and, according to the Flesch Easy Reading Formula, they are university level for native English speakers.

Most kids struggle with saying anything past, "How are you?" and "What's your name?", but they are expected to understand ridiculously complex written questions that most native English speakers would have to read a few times (like I did) to understand.

Eventually the translating software will actually work and the need for reading English will diminish, so the current lack of focus on speaking is an enormous mistake. The government is making strides, but until the university entrance exams have a spoken component the current system will stay in place and the vast majority of kids will study English for a decade and not have even a rudimentary grasp of the spoken language.

Since the questions are already on the internet, I thought it was a good idea to publish a few of these after the break if you are interested

25. Errors and failures typically corrupt all human designs.
Indeed, the failure of a single component of your car’s engine
could force you to call for a tow truck. Similarly, a tiny
wiring error in your computer’s circuits can mean throwing
the whole computer out. Natural systems are different,
though. Throughout Earth’s history, an estimated 3 million
to 100 million species have disappeared, which means that
this year somewhere between three and a hundred species
will vanish. However, such natural extinctions appear to
cause little harm. Over millions of years the ecosystem has
developed an amazing ___________ to errors and failures,
surviving even such drastic events as the impact of the
Yucatan meteorite, which killed tens of thousands of species.
* meteorite: 운석
① connection ② intolerance ③ insensitivity
④ accessibility ⑤ subjectivity

26. Unlike deviance in other settings, deviance in sports often
involves ___________________ norms and expectations.
For example, most North Americans see playing football as
a positive activity. Young men are encouraged to ‘be all
they can be’ as football players and to live by slogans such
as “There is no ‘I’ in t-e-a-m.” They are encouraged to
increase their weight and strength, so that they can play
more effectively and contribute to the success of their
teams. When young men go too far in their acceptance of
expectations to become bigger and stronger, when they are
so committed to playing football and improving their skills
on the field that they use muscle-building drugs, they become
deviant. This type of ‘overdoing-it-deviance’ is dangerous,
but it is grounded in completely different social dynamics
from the dynamics that occur in the ‘antisocial deviance’
enacted by alienated young people who reject commonly
accepted rules and expectations.
① a disciplined control of the desire to avoid
② wasted efforts and resources in establishing
③ ambitious attempts to get independent of and free from
④ a traditional approach of matching slogans and mottos with
⑤ an unquestioned acceptance of and extreme conformity to

30. The most obvious salient feature of moral agents is a
capacity for rational thought. This is an uncontested necessary
condition for any form of moral agency, since we all
accept that people who are incapable of reasoned thought
cannot be held morally responsible for their actions.
However, if we move beyond this uncontroversial salient
feature of moral agents, then the most salient feature of
actual flesh-and-blood (as opposed to ridiculously idealized)
individual moral agents is surely the fact that every moral
agent __________________________________ every moral
problem situation. That is, there is no one-size-fits-all answer
to the question “What are the basic ways in which moral
agents wish to affect others?” Rather, moral agents wish to
affect ‘others’ in different ways depending upon who these
‘others’ are.
① brings multiple perspectives to bear on
② seeks an uncontroversial cure-all solution to
③ follows the inevitable fate of becoming idealized in
④ comes with prejudices when assessing the features of
⑤ sacrifices moral values to avoid being held responsible for


brent said...

Do you have the link to the test?

Is there anything missing from the first question #28? It doesn't end with a period.

a passer by said...


try the 1.4mb one.

gwern said...

The first question strikes me as bogus & meaningless; the author is saying things, but no sense comes through.

But it is an interesting topic. The explanation that first occurs to me is that the test isn't intended to measure accurately the skills of 95% of the test-takers, but is intended only to discriminate among the remaining few percent who are practically fluent - leading to these comically tough questions.

This makes sense to me given what I hear about admissions to the top universities like Seoul National.

(It would be as if you were looking through high schoolers for the genius prodigies, but everyone has to take the test; so you just give everyone the GRE, knowing that most will be totally outclassed and their scores will be very random with equally smart kids getting scores hundreds of points apart, and take a look only at the kids who score past 1500.)