Examination, like so many other things, is useful as long as it is spontaneous, occasional, and simple. Its mischief begins when it grows to be organized into a trade, and the be-all and end-all of its own sphere. The less the student be "prepared," in the technical sense, the better. The more free the examiner be to use his own discretion with each examinee, the more likely he is to judge him fairly. It was so once. All this is now changed in the thirty or forty years since the examining mania set in. The myriad examinations which now encompass human life have called out an army of trained examiners who have reduced the business to a complicated art as difficult and special as chess. Like chess-playing, the art of examiner and examinee has been wondrously developed by practice. The trained examinee has now learned to play ten examination games blindfold. He can do with ease what the most learned man of the old school could not do. Gibbon would be plucked in the modern history school. Arthur Wellesley would never get into the army. And Burke would have got low marks, through not apportioning his time to the various questions in the paper, I seriously doubt if many of our great scholars, our famous lawyers, historians, and men of science could "floor" off-hand a high-class examination paper. They would not put their knowledge in the sharp, smart, orderly, cocksure style which so much delights the examiner. They would muddle the relation of the shire-moot to the hundred-moot, or they would forget the point in Smith vs. Jones, or they might differ from the examining board as to the exact number of the isomeric amyl alcohols now known. All this your trained examinee, well nursed by thorough crammers, has at the tips of his fingers. He "floors" his paper with instinctive knack—seeing at a glance how many minutes he can give to this or that question, which question will "pay" best—and trots out his surface information and his ten-day memory in neat little pellets beautifully docketed off with 1, 2, 3, (α) (β) (γ), the "five elements" of this, the "seven periods" of this movement, and the wonderful discovery (last month) of a new reading by Prof. Wunderbar.
Of course, all this does not take in the examiner. He knows that the student does not know all this, that this is not the wealth of the student's reading, or the product of the student's native genius. But what can he do? His task is to set questions, and the student's task is to answer them. If the questions on paper are answered right, cadit quæstio. The examiner's business is not with what the student knows, but with how many questions he can answer, and how many marks he can score. The examiner may see that he is not examining the students so much as the teachers, or perhaps the crammers. All that he can positively say is, that the candidate has been brought to the post perfectly "fit."