Plato's Republic was written around 380 BC, and is the first treatise to discuss the role of education in the state. Although a brilliant piece of philosophy, it has often been criticised as creating a theoretical framework for to support totalitarian regimes, as in the work of Popper. You can now read the Republic online. For Plato tests were a way of ensuring that only the most able of the Guardian class became leaders. The painting is Raphael's School of Athens, which features Plato and Aristotle surrounded by other Greek philosophers.

Monty Python started life as a BBC comedy series in the 1970s, starring John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Eric Idle. Monty Python and the Holy Grail was a spin-off movie, released in 1975. You can see more Monty Python sketches from their films and TV productions onYouTube.

Mr Bean saw Rowan Atkinson returning to slapstick comedy. The series ran from 1990 - 1995, and was exported around the world. It subsequently spawned a number of spin-off movies. The internet is awash with Bean clips, but you can find most of them on YouTube

Spies Like Us was an average movie of 1985, staring Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd as two bumbling spies. However, this clip is amusing, especially as we enter an era of high electronic surveillance of test sites and the use of biometric data to check on test taker identity.

Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, first broadcast in the 1980s, remains one of the best comedy series of all time. The political contexts and machinations portrayed are still being played out in governments around the world. It starred Paul Eddington as Jim Hacker (the PM), Nigel Hawthorne as Sir Humphrey (the Permanent Secretary), and Derek Fowlds as Bernard (the Private Secretary). This is BBC political satire at its best. When you've seen these clips, I strongly recommend taking a dip into other episodes. And if you enjoy them, why not buy the entire set.

This clip is an early sketch performed by Rowan Atkinson and Mel Smith from the satirical news programme Not the 9 O'clock News, which launched their careers along with Griff Rhys Jones and Pamela Stephenson.

The Ferry was my home for three years, and I was very sorry to leave. But I go back as often as possible and stay at what used to be my local, the Fish. This is a beautiful part of the country. Check out these photos.

The News Quiz was first broadcast in 1977, and for many of us in the UK is essential listening at 6.30 on a Friday. Chaired by Sandy Toksvig, the team provide an irreverent look back over the week's events. It alternates in this slot with the Now Show, and you can get podcasts from iTunes and download them from the Friday Night Comedy website.

The Now Show is a mix of stand-up, sketches and music, broadcast at 6.30 on a Friday evening, taking a wry look at the week's news. It alternates in this slot with the News Quiz, and you can get podcasts from iTunes and download them from the Friday Night Comedy website.

The Edinburgh Festival takes place in the summer every year, offering visitors from around the world three weeks of theatre, music, comedy, opera, dance, film and art. You can check out the full range of events online. Much of the comedy takes place in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
 
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Testing and Assessment Humour

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Tests have been around since the dawn of civilization. In the first published treatise on education, Plato argued in the Republic that all manner of tests were essential for society. Tests just seem to be a part of life. We all know that Knights must undergo many tests and trials to prove themselves worthy of a great quest. Without facing a test there would be no story. And in the first video clip we see just how it could all go wrong, thanks to Monty Python's Bridge of Death sketch.

Testing also brings out the most bizarre behaviour. Sometimes superstition takes over. We will only pass if we use our lucky pen, or have our mascot with us. If these fail, some people resort to cheating. The kinds of security measures taken by test providers and test centres are designed to stop it, if possible. And we all have a strong sense that cheating is unfair on others. The bizarre behaviour, the cheating, and the consequences, are all superbly portrayed in the second clip from Mr. Bean. Attempting to cheat is the focus for a lot of comedy. It's the taboo that causes the chuckle. In the third clip Chevy Chase is far from discrete, and obviously gets caught.

Item writers always try to avoid questions that are biased, value laden, or likely to upset someone. But all too often they can get through item review. In the fourth clip the British Prime Minister (played by Paul Eddington, Yes Prime Minister) complains about the politicization of examinations.

In language testing research, like other fields, we frequently use questionnaires or interviews to collect data. My favourite book on this topic is J. D. Brown's (2001) Using Surveys in Language Programs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. This is a masterly treatment of how to construct survey instruments, analyse the data, and write reports. On pages 50 - 51 he discusses how to avoid leading questions, that "encourage respondents to answer in a certain way." In the fifth clip, again from the series Yes, Prime Minister, we see just how a survey can be designed to get the result the researcher wants. This is definitely how 'not' to do it!

Clip six is one of my favourites. When I was at school and university as an undergraduate I was addicted to Not the 9 O'Clock News. In this scene, a young Rowan Atkinson is taken to task by Mel Smith for his examination answers. But all is not as it seems....

In clip 7 we have a panel discussion on tests, which is linked in from Onion.com, America's leading satirical website. Warning for this one: some strong language! The question at issue is whether tests are biased against students who don't want to study!

 
     
 
     
 

And on a similar theme, satirists frequently aim their barbed wit at examination boards. They realize that any practices that mean test takers can get higher grades than they deserve without actually having to do well on the test is pretty unfair. Perhaps, for example, your pet parrot died the night before the test. Do you deserve a higher grade? Listen to what Hugh Dennis and Steve Punt from The Now Show think.

The following clip was taken from the News Quiz on 23rd April 2010, a popular Radio 4 satirical quiz show. The panel were asked about the threatened teacher boycott of national tests in the United Kingdom. This is a regular occurrence, not only in the UK but in many countries around the world, because it's often the one way that teachers have to hit back at government micromanagement of the educational system! Listen what Sandy Toksvig and the team have to say about it all.

The Now Show and The News Quiz from which the clips above are taken, are broadcast alternately in the 6.30 pm. comedy slot on BBC Radio Four. However, in the summer they take a break and there is often a comedy clip from the Edinburgh Festival in its place. Or sometimes there is nothing available at all. If you'd like to listen to the most recent episode (there aren't always testing jokes) I have imported the podcast from the BBC website so you can play it directly from this page (excluding parts of the summer):

FriComedy: The News Quiz 25-07-2014
Host Sandi Toksvig is joined by regular panellist Jeremy Hardy along with guest panellists Susan Calman, Katherine Ryan and Bob Mills. Corrie Corfield reads the news. Produced by Lyndsay Fenner. Last in series.


 
     
 
     
 

See how fast you can read it!

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.

Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it's written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.

Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.

Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation's OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.

Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.

Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.

Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.

Pronunciation -- think of Psyche!
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won't it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It's a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.

Finally, which rhymes with enough --
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!

Download Here

 
     
 
     
 
I was lucky enough to live in Scotland for a number of years, in a town called Broughty Ferry. 'The Ferry' as it's known locally, is just North of Dundee and south of Arbroath, at the mouth of the River Tay. The picture on the right is Broughty Ferry castle. I took it at dawn, one morning in November 2004. The people in this part of the world are wonderful and friendly, and the accent is delightful. A major part of the language courses for international students at the local schools and colleges was listening to, and understanding, the accents of Scotland. The listening activities of many language learning course books just don't prepare learners for the reality of what they are going to hear when they travel. Listen to the variety of Scottish accents in this poem by Andy Stewart. How much can you understand?

 
     
 
     
 




And here's an attempt from me: