Sunday, January 13, 2013

Application Question confusion

Just because there is a question mark behind a sentence doesn't necessarily make it the main question for the GP Application Question (AQ) component. Too often, our practices default to whether the student agrees with the author/s or not, but this kind of evaluation tends to miss the point of the question altogether.

Take this one from a recent practice session. Given a piece of text about the pros and cons of fashion, the AQ goes:

In this article, Jean Jacquard comments on the importance of fashion to society and how it can be useful, and at the same time, problematic to us.
How far do you agree with his observations on fashion and clothing? Illustrate your answer or own views by referring to the ways in which you and your society regard fashion.

First, the sentence that ends with the question mark is itself a problem. A person's observations are hardly open for dispute. What a guy sees is what he sees so agreement means that you agree that he saw what he saw, whereas disagreement means that you think he didn't see what he thought he saw. Now that's confusing enough without adding the further complication that he is not in a position to see what you see, and vice versa. So if the answer focuses on this question, there's going to be confusion all round, leading to frustration for both assessor and student alike.

If the question mark is an unreliable indicator of the main question, then which one is it? We need to look at the purpose behind the question holistically. If I asked you such a question, I wouldn't care whether you agreed or disagreed with the source, nor your justifications why. What I would want to know is how a new context in your estimation compares against the situation that the source has identified. So the focus is on the new context (in this case, "you and your society"), not on rehashing what the source has already provided.

Another concern is the limited time and space allotted for this question under exam conditions. We need to identify context and parameters really quickly in order to provide a sharply-focused, narrow-band answer rather than a random, broad-based one. The AQ's lead-in or introductory sentence provides the parameters, while the final instructions provide the context. That leaves the sentence that ends with the question mark as merely a stimulus to begin writing.

Below is a link to my treatment of this question, including my highlights of key ideas from the source; my remarks on sticky notes (open the .pdf in Adobe Reader or Acrobat to see them) and my sample answer. Oh, if anyone wants to know if my answer follows a template... yes it does! It's provided by the source. Figure that one out!

Click here.

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