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SEA My Troubles

Published: 
Friday, May 15, 2015

Last Friday, while the country’s adults were entering a mild psychic shock, the result of two consecutive working weeks without a single public holiday, our children were being violently concussed by the Secondary Entrance Assessment examination, a single morning of their childhood which affects their adult lives more profoundly than any act of any version of God: Allah, Jesus, Papa Legba or Mother Lakshmi might fill your soul and radiate your inner light, but pass for nine out of ten of the bully-victim rendezvous points we call our secondary school system and you realise you don’t need a guardian angel or patron saint as much as a switchblade or Glock.

In sympathy with the children whose whole lives may have been firetrucked before they’ve had their first kiss, I begin the maths section of my own SEA exam today (though, three years from age 60, it’s more of a Senility Entrance Assessment for me). Next Friday, I’ll try “Language Arts” and finish with the essay the following Friday. These questions come from the actual 2010 SEA paper. Five full years have passed and the little ones who did this very test are on their way to a working life spent either driving million-dollar BMWs or washing them for ten bucks a pop.

Mathematics. 75 minutes. Section I.

Q 1. Write in figures: one million, two thousand and three? The easy start, so children who will be frying chicken for a career won’t feel stupid until at least question two. Q 6. A mother bought 3 oranges, 4 pears and 5 mangoes. What FRACTION of the fruits was pears? A trick question: if you can’t compare oranges and apples, how the firetruck can you add pears and mangoes? Q 9. Ken eats 4 plums a day. How many plums would he eat in two weeks? First, this question wouldn’t pass the Language Arts: it should ask how many nuts Ken will, not would, eat; and, second, he wouldn’t need to eat plums, just inhale water vapours, to survive for a year; and, en passant, make a fool of newspaper columnists who think they’re clever. 

Q 8. Every seventh student entering a school bazaar in the first hour was admitted free. If 46 students entered in the first hour, how many entered free? Depends on the school: at an inner-city one, all got in free, and they took the cash float from the student selling tickets at the gate at gunpoint; if it’s a “prestige” school, no one got in free because no one came, because they were all at home playing League of Legends on their 100-inch smart TVs while cuffing down Daddy’s Grey Goose. 

Q 20. A bowler obtained the following number of wickets in 9 matches: 3, 1, 4, 6, 4, 2,4, 1,3. What is the MODAL number of wickets? The answer is “Dwayne Bravo” and the working out is “West Indies loss is Chennai Super Kings gain” plus “Dave Cameron mother” minus “any firetrucking common sense or decency”; but you have to admire how hard the examiners worked to demonstrate they know they should say “obtained,” not “got”; they could have far more smoothly used, “had.”

Section II. 

Q 22. If 75 per cent of a class of 32 students are present, how many are absent? Similar to Q 8 above, except that the answer is “32,” because no one came to class at all: the sufferer school students are all out on the street hustling; the prestige school teachers didn’t turn up to take the roll call, so parents sent their children to the private “international” schools; and the private international schools had a “field trip” to a fine dining restaurant and casino. Q 29. A 15 per cent cash purchase discount was given at a shoe store. How much will Derrick pay cash for a pair of shoes marked at $600? First, it should be “would,” not “will”—another Language Arts failure by the Caribbean Examinations Council itself—and, second, if Derrick also buys a pack of socks and a shirt-and-pants, his discount will be trebled, but the storekeeper will still make 500 per cent profit. 

Q 33. Michael left home at 7.37 am and arrived at school 43 minutes later, 5 minutes before the bell rang. At what time did the bell ring? Michael clearly lives in Henry Pierre St and school is across the road at Fatima, or in the Charlotte Street plannings and school is Rosary Boys RC, or he would be taking two to three hours to get to school like every other schoolchild in Trinidad; but the answer is, “when the principal shake it.” Q 34. Ben takes 15 minutes to dress, 20 minutes to eat and 34 minutes to walk to work for 9 am. What is the LATEST Ben should wake up to get to work on time? Instead of fighting up to make breakfast, Ben should buy doubles and sleep for 19 extra minutes.

Section III

Q 41. At a school fair, 30 per cent of pies had cheese filling, 25 per cent had beef filling and the remaining 90 pies had potato filling. What percentage of pies had potato filling? Aha! At last a question from the much-maligned Multicultural Ministry: the answer is: “the Hindu one” and “Dr Growley & the PNM go take ’way all-you saheena!” Q 43. Daniel is making tickets for his drama club from sheets of bristol board… Wait, do the CXC really not know that Bristol, board comes from firetrucking Bristol, England, and needs a capital B? Christ, they have the nerve to fail anyone? Three times it’s spelled, “bristol,” no lie! And any word processor would—and will—autocorrect it to Bristol! 

That’s enough depressing maths; and the last CXC paper they’re likely to give to smartass columnists. Next week, we succumb to language arts, with or without capitals.

BC Pires would bet the CXC will not understand why it would not use will, and will not use would, correctly. Email your hypercorrections to him at [email protected]

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