Posted on October 11, 2005

60 Errors in English Exam

Kavith Harrilall, (SA), Oct. 11

Pietermaritzburg — The quality of standardised tests set by provincial education officials has come under heavy criticism after scrutiny of a severely flawed September 2005 English Additional Language (Higher Grade) test.

The first section of the question paper contains at least 60 errors.

The test, which The Witness has in its possession, was designed for Grade 11 pupils across KwaZulu-Natal. It is understood that the results form part of pupils’ continuous assessment mark, which is 25% of the final year mark.

Criticism has been levelled at virtually all aspects of the paper. A language expert noted that there are at least 45 errors in the comprehension passage, and 15 in the questions that follow.

“Grammatically, the passage is defective in tense usage, punctuation, and in the usage of vocabulary, idioms and expressions. Some imperfections may be due to genuine error, or careless proofreading or careless typing.

‘An exam paper should contain no errors’

“I would be more lenient with a second or third language grade 11 pupil, but I am assessing a teacher here who set the paper, not a child. Perhaps a teacher should be even more harshly penalised, because an exam paper should contain no errors,” said the language expert.

He asked: “What does this say about the moderator concerned, who was supposed to have checked the paper?”

Experts seriously questioned the appropriateness of the subject matter of the passage, which describes disturbing scenes involving the stabbing of a youth by two of the other main characters in the story. It includes a description of their subsequent death by poisoning.

“The passage contains too many grammatical and word usage errors. The passage is certainly not an example of the language properly used,” said a vastly experienced examiner.

Numerous other flaws in paper

He added that there are also flaws in the arrangement of the paper, related to the numbering of questions.

“The moderator checks to ensure that the material is on the syllabus. They look at the technical aspects, as well as editing and the suitability of the material.

“The paper is taken back to the examiner, if necessary. They make changes in a co-operative effort. In this case, this process has failed,” he said.

In response, education spokesperson Christi Naude said secretary-general Dr Cassius Lubisi has asked to view the paper and will comment in due course.

Education MEC Ina Cronje commented: “As a language teacher I am very meticulous about every detail. Our children deserve to have tests set that comply with the highest standard. We will investigate this particular incident and take appropriate action if necessary.”

Examples of errors

# A word usage error is evident in the use of the word “rascals” to describe the main characters in the story, who are hired murderers.

According to the former examiner who analysed the paper, the word “rascal” has almost disappeared from ordinary English usage, and when it is used, it suggests tolerance and an indulgent attitude toward a naughty child or a so-called “loveable rogue”.

# “This was as cold as Winter.”

In this sentence, the word “it” should be used, not “this”; while ‘Winter’ should not be spelt with a capital.

# “Unsuspicious of the poison in the cold drink, they grabbed their cans and emptied them to the dregs.”

Experts located problems with the usage of “unsuspicious” and “cold drink”, which should actually read “cold drinks”. Furthermore, the phrase “emptied them to the dregs” has also been singled out.

# The incorrect use of capital letters is a feature of the question paper.

“Taverns are Killer Zones” is one such example; another is “The end of the Trouble Makers at Ntabamhlope”.