jacques barzun

Education: The Circle Game

Writing more than fifty years ago, the historian and cultural critic Jacques Barzun commented upon the multiple-choice test:

Taking an objective test is simply pointing. It calls for the least effort of mind above that of keeping awake: recognition. And it is recognition without a shock, for to a veteran of twelve years old, the traditional four choices of each question fall into a soothing rhythm. No tumult of surprise followed by a rallying generalship and concentration, as in facing an essay question; no fresh unfolding of the subject under unexpected demand, but the routine sorting out of the absurd from the trivial, or the completing of dull sentences by word- or thought-cliches. No other single practice explains as fully the intellectual defects of our student up to and through graduate school than their ingrained association of knowledge and thought with the scratching down of check marks on dotted lines.