Skepticism on Australian High-School Exams

Skeptical content on school exams has always been of interest to the Australian Skeptics, whether it is favourable or not-so-complimentary to the goals of investigating paranormal or pseudoscientific claims rationally.

Back in 2003, the Victorian Skeptics voiced their concern over a question on the VCE, which requested students of Psychology to explain how an ‘altered state of consciousness’ contributed to walking on hot coals. Lynne Kelly, author of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Paranormal, pointed out how as a Physics teacher, she taught heat capacity and transfer to young people and how misrepresentative the exam was of the practice.

This year, however, two states have produced exams which are distinctly ‘skeptical’ in nature. PseudoScientist podcaster and member of the Young Australian Skeptics Jack Scanlan, reported on Homologous Legs blog about a surprise in the mid-year General Achievement Test. The paper (found here as a pdf) features a frank and detailed breakdown of the techniques of cold reading, particularly how psychics use them.

In Western Australia, the final year Philosophy and Ethics exam for Year 12 students featured an extended answer section which was inspired by Skeptic.com‘s long-running and popular podcast Skepticality. Using the podcast’s investigation of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, Washington, (episode #93 of Skepticality), students were asked to assess the strengths of arguments regarding the institution’s promotion of intelligent design / creationism and what the ‘Wedge Strategy’ means for science education.

Skepticality podcast regularly investigates skeptically-based education and science communication issues and further resources suitable for schools from the Junior Skeptic insert can be found on the Skeptic.com site.