The Olympics

These are more important than you think.
Tangible rewards.

The most important, all-consuming academic competition I’ve ever seen devised is alive here in Mongolia: The Olympics (or Olympiad, as it is commonly referred to as).

They are subject and grade-based: Chemistry, Math, Mongolian, Russian, English, and more all get their own test.

Up until this year, there were national Olympics for 11th, 9th, and 5th grade students. This year, the nationals are only for 11th and 9th grade students. The individual aimags (states), however, still hold the competition for all the in-between years. The competition is fierce and hectic, as both teachers and students compete. Yes, the teachers participate in their own categories as well.

Volunteers are always asked to help judge the English tests. There is a problem with the tests, however: They are very poorly constructed. As someone who has done graduate work on language assessment, the fact that these tests are used to measure anything gives me heart palpitations: questions with grammatical errors, questions with multiple correct answers, questions and directions so vague that they leave us at a loss for what students are supposed to write, NO RUBRIC for the writing section (for a standardized test, this is mind-blowing). The quality leaves me shaking my head, but I try my best to help everyone get through the hundreds of papers that need grading.

Winners can earn money, prestige, and preference at universities based on their performance. Their English teacher also gets a lot of brownie points and tangible rewards as well if their student does well. There’s a lot to be gained by doing well on these tests, so come Spring, the schools are all about Olympics’ prep.

Do I think there are better ways to spend the Spring then on test prep? Absolutely, but, unfortunately, that’s the nature of the beast. I do my best to help our students succeed, because succeeding on these tests can get them many great rewards. But education is it’s own best reward, right?


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