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General Guidelines for West Bengal School Service Commission’s English Tests
The West Bengal School Service Commission was formed the West Bengal School Service Commission Act in 1997 as a fair system of appointing teachers in Non-Govt. Govt.-Aided Secondary schools and madrasahs in both Hons/PG and Pass categories. The prime aim of the Government was not only to bring in clarity in the system of recruitment, but also to make sure that only the suitable candidates enter the profession. The ‘suitability’ of the candidates raises certain issues that occasion the present discussion. It should be noted that the purpose of holding a competitive exam. is not at all to select a few and drive away others, but to sort out candidates who will be able to perform the job required of him/her in a specific field. The SSC candidates, therefore, bear in mind the scope and nature of the job you are going to compete for. An understanding of this will help the candidates to mark out for them the position they are in and they will have start from.
Nature and Scope of the Job
Specifically speaking, a teacher’s job in a secondary school is to participate in the organised dynamic process, in particular, of an institution, and in general, of the society—a process, which remains responsible for the all-round social, psychological, cultural and intellectual development of a child. This is called education. The individual role of a teacher out there is to make sure that all the students of a particular class, say for instance class V, come within the circle of his/her conduction of the subject he/she assigned with. A teacher beginning to teach English in class V should take care as to whether or not all the students have learnt to recognise, read and write the English alphabet correctly. If they can, only then the teacher should proceed on to teach some common questions. Again, a teacher assigned to teach in the H.S. level should remember that H.S. is the first stage of higher education. Accordingly, he/she is required to take care that the learners come in touch, know and understand well the fundamentals of a specific subject and be prepared for the next stage as well. Once the nature and scope of the job are understood properly, it will be easier for to understand what is expected of you out there in the examination and prepare for it and make through it.
- The Commission does not expect you to excel with vast and deep knowledge of English Literature, nor that you revel in high standard of criticism. What is actually expected is that you are well acquainted with the main trends and movements in English Literature, the vogue of the particular genres in particular periods, the use of literary terms and answer certain questions from the prescribed texts clearly in correct English.
- If you look at the syllabus, you may discern a pattern there. Candidates appearing for the pass category will find that the texts cover the area beginning with the Romantic Period down roughly to the first quarter of the 20th century, just prior to the beginning of the Modernist Movement of Pound, Eliot and others. Candidate appearing for the Hons/PG category will find that the texts range from the Elizabethan period down to the British literature produced before 1950 or so. The syllabus can be divided, for convenience, into two levels—the general and the particular.
- On the general level, here you should therefore be will acquainted with the prevalence of different genres in different periods that come within the area of the syllabus: for instance, ‘sonnet’ during the Elizabethan period, ‘Mock-epic’ during the Augustan period, ‘Ode’ and ‘Lyric’ during the Romantic period, disconnected irregular utterances during the Modernist period etc. You are also advised to take note of the genres like ‘novel’, ‘short-story’ and ‘essay’.
- You should have clear conceptions regarding different trends and movements in English literature; for instance, the Neo-classical trend in Augustan period, the Romantic Movement, the Pre-Raphaelite Movement, the Symbolist Movement, the modernist Movement etc.
- You should take care to remember the importance of certain years in which some epoch-making events took place; for instance, the accession and death of Queen Elizabeth in 1558 and 1603 respectively, the Glorious Revolution in 1688, the fall of the Bastille Fort and the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789, the publication of the Lyrical Ballads in 1798, the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837, First World War (1914-18), the publications of Eliot’s Waste Land and Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922, the Second World War (1939-45) etc.
- On the general plane, the candidates may be asked directly to express their opinions on individual writers, for instance you may be asked, ‘How would you differentiate among Wordsworth, Shelley and Keats?’ or ‘In what ways Wordsworth’s poetry is different from Coleridge’s?’
- You should also remember the full name of a writer from the prescribed texts: for example, ‘What is the full name of T.S. Eliot?’
The Commission intends to test you on some particular levels as well, and that is why there is a prescribed syllabus. But it does not expect you to examine the texts from the perspective or on the critical level you did in your college/university exams, nor is there any scope for doing so. The Commission’s experts will see into whether or not you are capable of answering the given questions clearly to the point in correct English in two or three sentences. Your answer, therefore, should be assertive, clarifying and illuminating and informative, if necessary. It should never be reflective, nor incomplete in sense, nor put in the form of circumlocution. In other words, the experts will see into whether or not you possess the necessary knowledge and skills for explaining the school texts in classroom situation. Therefore, remember the following points:
- Before entering a text, it is necessary to note whether the title bears any special significance for an understanding and discussion of the text.
- Second in importance in order, certainly not in degree, comes the opening or unfolding of an action or story in drama or short story. The opening scene sometimes anticipates or sets the keys for the events going to take place in the text; for instance, the opening scene in Macbeth.
- Then enter the characters. Different character plays different roles. Sometimes foils or opposite characters are introduced to highlight some lack or excess or flaw in the principal character. For instance, Telemachus in Ulysses stands in sharp contrast as a symbol of domesticity and stability to his father who lacks or defies these. Or, in Macbeth Banquo is presented as a foil, as a moral rebuke to Macbeth in order to emphasise the latter’s immoral and illegal project.
- Sometimes the characters are named after the kind of function or idiosyncrasy they are associated with; for example, Tony Lumpkin.
- The incidents scattered throughout the text are no less important; in other words, it is equally important know and remember and explain what happens when, or who/what makes what happen when. For instance, you may asked, ‘When/How did Falder die?’, or ‘When did Darcy confess to Elizabeth that he was violently in love with her?’ etc.
- Some character sometimes utters words which turn out to be highly significant in the context of an action or a whole text. For instance, Lady Macbeth’s false conviction that a little water was sufficient to wash the mark of the blood, turns back later on herself and it brings about her nemesis. Or, the Duke’s sudden utterance ‘All the smiles were stopped together’ suddenly supplies the information of his heinous act of murdering his innocent wife and points to his monomania.
- The end is always replete with significance. However, more often it is in the ending of a short story and a one-act play that the significance lies.
- While preparing for the poems you should, first of all, mark the particular rhyme a particular poem is written in. For instance, you may be asked, ‘What is terza rima? Give an instance of its use by a poet from the prescribed texts’.
- You should also note the rhyming scheme, especially in the sonnets. You may be asked, ‘What is the difference in stanzaic pattern between a Shakespearean sonnet a Spenserian sonnet?’ You may also be asked, ‘What is blank verse?’
- It is equally important to make note of significant lines in a poem and their meaning, their denotations and connotations. For instance, Ulysses’ exhortation to the sailors, ‘To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield’ on the surface level denotes an optimistic overture, but into the deeper one it connotes a fruitless and pessimistic desperate cry of an ageing person.
- A poem sometimes contains images that become notable for artistic beauty or that may have deeper significance. For instance, Shelley’s comparison of the skylark to ‘a poet/ Hidden in the light of thought’, or Coleridge’s description of ‘the one red leaf, the last of its clan’ in Christabel, or his picture of the ‘woman wailing for her demon lover’ etc. should be carefully noted.
- The prescribed essays are mixed in type. In the Pass category while Lamb’s Dream Children is a personal essay, L.A. Hill’s is of prescriptive nature. In the Hons/PG category, however, besides Lamb’s there is Shaw’s Freedom written in light-hearted and humorous vein, and another by Bacon instructive in nature. While doing Lamb you should be careful of his favourite tactics of mixing autobiography with fiction, humour with pathos, of presenting fictional names for real-life persons and use of pedantic tags. In Bacon you will find the use of pithy and contracted constructions which can easily be expanded into paragraphs. Try to understand only what the author wants to mean.
- In the secondary and H.S. schools teachers are required not so much to teach English literature nor to inculcate literary habits as to teach them the use of the English language in practical situation. The teacher should be there to help them so that they can read a text with proper pronunciation, comprehend it, answer the related questions vocally and write those in correct English. What matters here most is teaching situational grammar fruitfully. That is why you should have a sound knowledge of the English grammar and the skills for application. In this you may be tested in many ways:
- First of all, you will have to answers questions from the prescribed texts and the experts will scrutinise your answers so as to find out whether you have written your answers in correct English or not. Bear in mind, this matters most.
- There will be questions specifically related to the definition and its application; you may be asked ‘What is split infinitive? Give an example in a sentence.’
- You may be asked to apply your grammatical skills; for instance, ‘The building is building. Change the voice.’
- You may be tested whether or not you can explain different sentences in terms of tense, voice, mood and so on; for instance, ‘I was to go there, I had to go there, I am to go there. Differentiate.’
- You will be tested whether or not you can mark out an error in a construction, rewrite it correctly and give explanations for it. For instance, ‘I am looking forward to you come. Rewrite it correctly and explain it.’
- You may be asked to give adjective/adverb/verb/noun form/s of given word/s and use those in sentences.
- You may be asked to differentiate between/among homonyms, that is, a word identical with another in pronunciation, but different from it in the spelling and meaning.
- Since you are going to enter the profession of teaching, it is expected that you are acquainted with the general climate of education, the issues, problems, new changes that have bearing upon or related to the system of education in West Bengal. For instance, you should prepare short compositions on topics relating to the new changes and introductions in schools.