Sunday Stabroek Grade Six Practice Test Papers were an abomination

Dear Editor,

As a concerned parent/educator I took some time to review and evaluate the Grade Six Assessment Practice Test Papers and was shocked at what I discovered and I thought I should share my observations with you and your readers.

Sunday Stabroek gets an ‘F’ at the Grade Six Assessment!

Do you know that if those responsible for creating and publishing the test papers, published by the Sunday Stabroek, February 2012, were to be graded, they would get an ‘F’ and would fail to gain entrance into the top secondary schools? Are you therefore not surprised to know that two out of every three pupils who wrote the National Grade Six Assessment last year failed English and Mathematics? What do think will probably happen this year?

Certainly, you may be asking yourself: Where is the evidence for such an outrageous claim? Well, fortunately, the evidence is in the public domain, published by Stabroek News. Grab your copy of the Practice Tests and follow along with me and you would soon find out that the claim is well supported by the evidence.

A review of the practice tests that our children were subjected to uncovered a slew of  unacceptable errors. The tests were replete with poorly formulated questions, awkwardly worded instructions, inaccurately labelled, misleading and murky diagrams, muddled questions, poorly chosen distractors, and perhaps even more important, grammatical, punctuation and logical errors. Just to name a few. From the point of view of the sheer number and type of errors, the practice tests are unacceptable. In fact they are shameful.

What are some of the implications of this level of incompetence? Imagine, 18,000 pupils being subjected to this sort of test. The situation is very worrying. Parents should demand that the Ministry of Education make immediately available to the public the actual National Grade Six Assessment exam paper that was presented to our kids.

As you are aware, the practice tests were intended to provide pupils with a ‘simulation’ of the actual NGSA exam that followed it. Well, if the actual examination was a ‘mirror image’ of the practice tests, then God help us!

In reviewing the practice tests I looked at the following factors: Are the questions properly formulated? Are the instructions to the candidates clear and to the point? What ability, skill or knowledge does the question test? Are the relevant diagrams, images, figures clear and uncluttered? Are they properly labelled? Since all of the questions are basically multiple-choice questions, are the distractors plausible and related to the topic?

English Paper 1
Overall, this paper had 40 multiple-choice questions. Twelve of those questions or 33⅓% had errors! Here is a sample analysis.
Questions 9 and 10, the distractors used by the examiners are not plausible. Those who compiled the papers should be encouraged to use as distractors the most frequent examinee errors rather than those they pick out of a hat.

Question 13: In this question, the compilers inaccurately underlined the phrase ‘a collection of poems for my birthday‘ when the correct formulation should have been “Dad bought a collection of poems for my birthday.” If we were to put that down as just a typographical error, it should have been subsequently corrected. It was not.

Question 20: The instruction: “Select the sentence which is correct.” This instruction is improperly worded. Since the set of choices presented include a question it is misleading to ask the pupil to ‘select the sentence …’ since that would exclude the question ‘Everybody is here, aren’t they [sic] (here the examiner omits the question mark).” The instruction should read: ‘Choose from the set of items below the one you think is grammatically correct.’

Questions 21 and 22 are improperly worded. “In questions 21 and 22 choose the tense of the verb.” The proper formulation of that question should be ‘Choose from the set of tenses below the one you think is used in the given sentence.’

For example, questions 28 and 29: The instruction to the pupils is “… choose the line of words or sentence which has been punctuated correctly.” ‘Line of words’? The proper instruction should have been ‘… choose the phrase or sentence that you think is correctly punctuated.’

Another example, questions 31 to 35: The instruction to the pupils, “Study the table carefully then answer questions 31 to 35.” As I read the instruction, I naturally looked for a ‘table’. There is no ‘table’ in the English paper! What the pupil sees on the paper are two charts or graphs, not a table! The instruction is misleading and can cause pupils to become confused, because a ‘table’ is something quite different from a ‘chart’ or a ‘graph’. Does Sunday Stabroek know the difference? It would appear not.

Question 31: “Which activity is enjoyed by Julie but not by Rachel?” What ability is the question testing? Presumably, the ability being tested here is the pupil’s ability to observe and compare two things – in this case 2 charts – and make inferences. And to see what is common to both and what is not. The chart displaying Julie’s hobbies shows she has 6 hobbies while Rachel has 7 hobbies. Reading, cooking, exercising and cleaning are common to both persons. A pupil would naturally observe closely Julie’s chart and identify which hobby is there that is not in Rachel’s chart. He or she would then choose either praying or gardening since neither is in Rachel’s chart.

Question 32: This is yet another example of a poorly formulated question. Look at the awkward, clumsy, grammatically incorrect language: “What is one of Rachel’s ‘most favourite’ hobbies?” What ability, skill or knowledge is the question testing? Presumably, it is testing the pupil’s ability to make a comparison and make inferences. The question, properly phrased, should have been: Which hobby, according to the chart, is most favoured by Rachel? Or, which hobby Rachel favours the most? [Ed note: ‘Which hobby does Rachel favour the most?]

But the confusion does not stop there. Here is yet another howler. As you observe the chart displaying Rachel’s hobbies you note that gardening is not among them! Our poor kids must have found themselves in a tailspin and skip[ped] the question.

Question 36 reveals, yet again, the compiler’s language competency. The instruction: “Read the extract poem carefully…“ Extract poem? What is that? Does the examiner mean ‘an extract from the poem’, or, ‘extracted poem’? No wonder our kids are having difficulty with the English language. The compilers themselves have a difficulty with the English language.

Question 38 asks pupils “Which of the following does the poet use in the first five lines of the poem? And the examiner provides 4 options including the bizarre ‘image of touch’! What does that mean? Did the examiner mean what sensory image did the poet use?

Mathematics Paper 1
This paper contained 40 multiple-choice questions. More than 10 questions [were] improperly formulated. Gets an ‘F’.
In this paper, quite a number of questions were improperly formulated and punctuated. Typically, the compiler displayed a marked tendency to avoid stating the specifics, preferring to use the indefinite pronoun or some other device.

Notably, most of the questions were improperly punctuated. Convention requires that an examiner should use the ellipsis – a series of 3 dots – to indicate to the reader the intentional omission of a word, phrase or sentence that would complete the thought. For example: ‘Animals need to reproduce so that … The ellipsis at the end of the sentence indicates to the examinee that the examiner intentionally left the sentence incomplete and that the pupil needs to complete it as in “Animals need to reproduce so that their species will not disappear.” Many questions had this problem. See questions 5, 6, 9, 14 …29, 33.

Question 10 asks: “Which is an obtuse angle?” And the compiler provides an ordered list of options, usually from A to B, from which the pupil, presumably, has to choose what he or she thinks is the best response. The instruction to the pupils should have been ‘Choose from the set of angles below, which one you think is an obtuse angle.’ Clear and to the point.

Question 11 asks “Which one represents the ratio of 3 men to 5 women?” Here again, the examiners seem to show a marked preference for the indefinite pronoun ‘one’ as in ‘Which one …’ Better: ‘Choose from the set of 4 expressions below the one you think best represents the ratio of 3 men to 5 women.

Question 13: “Which one represents a bar graph?” Better: ‘Choose from the set of graphs below, the one you think represents a bar graph.’
Question 18: “How many edges are in the cube below?” Since when [are] edges ‘in’ a cube? Edges are not in a cube. A cube has edges. Better: ‘How many edges does the cube below have?’

Question 20: In the figure above if ABC = 35 degrees… Wrong! What is the compiler naming? Is the compiler naming the figure itself or the angle? If the examiner is naming the angle then it should be ‘angle ABC‘ or s/he could have used the symbol for an angle as was done later in the same sentence ‘angle CAB.’

Question 21: “The perimeter, in cm, of the shape in the figure is …” Presumably, the examiner meant, ‘The perimeter, in cm, of the shape shown in the above Figure is …’

Question 32 Here some of the distractors are not plausible.

Question 34: “Set A are children who like apples. Set B are children who like bananas.” Here you have an example of improper subject and verb agreement. The correct formulation should have been: ‘Set A represents children who like apples. Set B represents children who like bananas.’

Question 39: “What was the profit per cent?” Amazing! Is it any wonder our kids are having difficulty with mathematics. The proper formulation should have been: ‘What was the percent profit the vendor earned?’

Question 40 This question is loaded with tongue twisters (Raj’s mass, James’s mass) that probably ended up bending the minds of our little sisters and brothers. The compilers ought to know that James’s mass is written as James’ mass to avoid the clash of consonants. [Ed note: Both James’ and James’s are acceptable, and Fowler’s English Usage tends to favour the latter.]

Science Paper 1
Question 3: here again the compiler fails to use the ellipsis to indicate the intentional omission of a word or phrase as in “At the centre of the Solar System we can find the” (wrong) Better: ‘At the centre of the Solar System we can find the …’

Question 4: Same observation as above. “Lunar is to moon as solar is to”  Better: ‘Lunar is to moon as solar is to …’

But the question that takes the cake is question 5. Here the unsuspecting kids were presented with a murky, low-resolution, black and white diagram that was obviously intended for viewing on a monitor and not in the print media, (I suspect grabbed unthinkingly from the Internet) that was intended, presumably, to show certain processes.

First, 2 of the 4 items are labelled ‘powdered chalk and washing soda crystals.‘ The other 2 items are labelled ‘A‘ and ‘B.‘ Now here comes the howler. The poor pupil is instructed to “Look carefully at the diagram …” and then asked the mind-boggling question: “What will happen to the salt after being stirred in the water?” Where is the ‘salt’ in the diagram? There is no item labelled salt in the diagram. The poor kid is left to deduce from his own personal experience that salt melts and so choose (a) It dissolves.

The problem I suspect was that in the colourful diagram that appeared on the Internet, the viewer could see the granular details of the contents of the containers, but those details are lost when the same diagram is presented in black and white! Poor kids! They must have been at their wits end with this question.

The issue here again is: What ability, skill or knowledge is the question testing? Presumably, the question was designed to test the pupil’s ability to observe processes, make inferences and come to a conclusion. With murky diagrams no proper observation can be made.

Question 6 “The liquid in B is called a “ Here the pupil is presented with 4 options, but it is impossible to determine the nature of the contents of the containers by sheer observation, since the diagram is in black and white! Amazingly, the science comiler failed to come to grips with the fact that science is based on accurate observation.

Question 7 “The process being carried out at C is” Would you believe it? There is no item labelled ‘C‘ in the diagram! One wonders how the pupils were able to cope with this mess.

Question 14 The question reads: “Mother mixes half a cup of cold water and half a cup of hot water. What do you think will happen?“
The choices presented to the pupils: “(a) The water reached freezing, (b) The hot water gained heat, (c) The water reached boiling point, (d) The cold water gained heat.”

Here the unsuspecting pupil is presented with a confusing syntax. The choices should have been presented in the future tense not the past tense since the question asked was “What will happen …?“

This is yet another example that shows even the compiler and Sunday Stabroek display low levels of language proficiency.

I have neither the time nor energy to analyse and evaluate the rest of the tests, but dear reader be assured, the pattern continues throughout the tests. Only God can save our kids from this abomination!

Yours faithfully,
Raj Singh


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