OXFORD, England — The exam was simple yet devilish, consisting of a single noun (“water,” for instance, or “bias”) that applicants had three hours somehow to spin into a coherent essay. An admissions requirement for All Souls College here, it was meant to test intellectual agility, but sometimes seemed to test only the ability to sound brilliant while saying not much of anything.If it wasn't useful any longer except as a haze, they're right to be rid of it.
“An exercise in showmanship to avoid answering the question,” is the way the historian Robin Briggs describes his essay on “innocence” in 1964, a tour de force effort that began with the opening chords of Wagner’s “Das Rheingold” and then brought in, among other things, the flawed heroes of Stendhal and the horrors of the prisoner-of-war camp in the William Golding novel “Free Fall.”
No longer will other allusion-deploying Oxford youths have the chance to demonstrate the acrobatic flexibility of their intellect in quite the same way. All Souls, part of Oxford University, recently decided, with some regret, to scrap the one-word exam.
It has been offered annually since 1932 (and sporadically before that) as part of a grueling, multiday affair that, in one form or another, has been administered since 1878 and has been called the hardest exam in the world. The unveiling of the word was once an event of such excitement that even non-applicants reportedly gathered outside the college each year, waiting for news to waft out. Applicants themselves discovered the word by flipping over a single sheet of paper and seeing it printed there, all alone, like a tiny incendiary device.
But that was then. “For a number of years, the one-word essay question had not proved to be a very valuable way of providing insight into the merits of the candidates,” said Sir John Vickers, the warden, or head, of the college.
Friday, May 28, 2010
It's Now Easier To Get Into One Of Oxford's Colleges
A quaint "tradition" has gone the way of the buggy whip: