Life is easy when it is a,b or c.

Weird and wonderful things have been invented in the last 200 years: the internet, airplanes, cricket and Garibaldi biscuits.  None of these however beat the emergence of the multiple choice test.  Trust me on this one, I can explain.

Yesterday I took 3 multiple choice tests for a Tour Guide Interpreters exam.  All 3 sections, History, geography and general knowledge were fiendishly difficult.  Some of my answers were based less on the content of the question and more on things like, well, I haven`t tried answering with C for a while.

But like all good multiple choice tests, there were sporadic flushes of joy, moments when I could be certain of the RIGHT answer.  For the last two months of study, I kept coming across a curious, memorable painting by Josetsu of an old man trying to catch a catfish with a gourd.  It appeared in yesterday`s test.  The only disappointment of knowing this answer was that I had no-one to gloat to about it after.  “Hey Suzuki-san, did you get the Josetsu one?  I bet you didn`t know it, did you?  I knew it.  I knew it.”

As a test of ability, multiple choice may have some flaws, but as a philosophy, as a way of living, it is a positive revolution.

In the dark days of my early tour-leading career, when I took groups to restaurants, I used to show them the whole menu.  What a foolish idea that was.  It would take me an hour to translate and an hour to ask the waiter which dishes come without fish flakes.  Since adopting the multiple choice method, I now just hide the menu and offer:  a)  Pork and rice,  b) Pork and noodles,  or c) Wait outside.  Nobody complains, except the vegetarians in midwinter.

Open-ended questions are too difficult, unacceptable in fact.  There is too much pressure, too many possibilities.  Keep questions simple, keep them yes or no even.  “Do they have beer?”  “Yes, they do.”  A lovely little exchange like that builds confidence in the tour leader – “Hey dear, this man knows his stuff!”

On the other hand, ask a question like: “Tom, what kind of beers do they have?” and you are throwing a tin of worms into my face.  (Do I translate the whole beer list?  Do I compromise and say only the popular ones?  But what about price, taste and alcoholic content?  I start to fluster.  I need to sit down and prepare.  It is stressful.  Why didn`t you warn me?)

In conversation I can only stay coherent for 10 words before the mumbling and bullshit takes over.  (Incidentally, if you hadn`t noticed already, these blog posts are used to cultivate my incoherence)

So in conclusion, by now you must be ready for it, open-ended questions are finished.  The 21st century cannot cope with their uncertainty anymore.  Live by multiple choice; it gives us security in this insecure world.  There is always a right answer: it`s a,b or c.

PS   Did you, a) crave a Garibaldi at any point during reading this post?, or b) wonder at any point whether learning to read was really worth the effort?, or c) didn`t understand the question and are only answering C because you have`t tried it for a while?

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