by K. Silva
(February 12, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Examinations are generally held to test knowledge and when examinations are held for the purpose of recruitment into a particular service there is also the added dimension to examine the suitability of a candidate to embark on a particular profession. Those who set examinations papers should be ever mindful of the purpose of the examination — and it is sine qua non that the exam question paper be examined by a team of experts in the field, to ensure that the question paper is directed towards the objectives they seek to achieve. Quite often those who set question papers seek either to show off their knowledge of the subject or seek to confuse the candidate with a view to making the exam as difficult as possible for the candidate.
The persons who set some question papers for the recently conducted Foreign Service exam seem to have had their own ideas about the exam itself and its purpose. For example the questions in the general knowledge section of the multiple choice exam had come as a genuine shock to many who took the exam. The paper had consisted of 50 questions, a large number of which appeared to be either irrelevant or incomprehensible. The standard of the English used to phrase the questions had also been very poor in both the general knowledge and multiple choice papers, to the extent that the meaning of individual questions had often been quite unclear.
It is recommended that the Ministry Secretary or the President’s principal advisor on Diplomacy obtain a copy of the paper in order to get an accurate impression of its standard. If he is a retired Foreign Service Officer he or she would be astonished.
There had been at least one question which many candidates felt was unanswerable as all the possible answers were false. There had been another question regarding definitions of geographical terms where the English used to frame the question was so poor that it had been impossible to identify any of the descriptions as correct.
Here is a sample of some of the questions: Which of these fish can live the longest out of water ?
The Loolla, the Madaya, the Kavalya or the Tilapia ?
Good God and to think that this is a question to check out the suitability of a candidate to be trained as a Diplomat!!!
Here is another question: Which of these is the most accurate? –
There are…. 600,000 hectares of paddy, 220,000 hectares of tea, 110,000 hectares of rubber 350,000 hectares of coconut under cultivation in Sri Lanka.
Which of these statistics regarding socio economic development in Sri Lanka is the least accurate? the average annual per capita electricity consumption is 350 KwH 73% of people have access to electricity 93% of people have access to clean water 40% of the population have access to pipe borne water .
That was a sample of questions from one paper —-need we say more. Those who were responsible for the conduct of this examination do not appear to have had even the foggiest idea of the type of person they were seeking to be members of this elite service.
Surely the services of a few senior retired career Foreign Service officers. Could have been utilised to prepare the question papers. Perhaps this may not have occurred to those who are said to be in charge of our foreign relations –does this not speak for itself.