The first examination for this Certificate was conducted in September 1987. There were 57 subsequent ones, almost always at about half-yearly intervals. Often there followed a detailed report, constructive and certainly not intended only for those who had taken the particular exam. The five most recent pairs of paper and report, all copied here, run from May 2014 to March 2016. The first of those pairs is the best to begin with: that exam had the most candidates (seven: six schoolboys in Year 11 and a man about to go to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar) and the report is the longest at ten pages.
Preceding the five pairs is a trio of commendations of the enterprise, from eminent professors at Oxford, Princeton/Melbourne, and Boston. One sentence in particular deserves to be widely known. Written by Sir Keith Thomas of Oxford in 2011, it concerns the abilities in reasoning and English expression tested by the Learningguild exam.
Though neglected in recent years by many educational institutions, these are essential skills not just for academic study but for the effective conduct of business in many spheres of life.
There are no present plans for further exams, but there is plenty to be learned from intensive and extensive study of these or other pairs of paper and report, preferably by considering how one would oneself respond to a particular section of a paper, and sometimes even writing an answer, and only then reading the respective part of a report.
Anyone who would like to have a go at an essay-topic set in a Section 5, or some other topic suitable for discussion, and to receive detailed and constructive annotation (written comments) on his or her essay, along with a mark such as would be given in an actual exam, and a related letter, is welcome to send his or her essay to Dr John Howes at email@example.com (or to 23 Fallon St, Brunswick, Victoria 3056, Australia), and Dr Howes or a colleague would respond in that way. The writer of the essay will be asked to join Learningguild, by paying the annual subscription of $15 if he or she is in Australia, and if not is welcome to join us on request and remain a member by writing to us at least once a year, perhaps sending news and/or views for our twice-yearly magazine Learningguild Letter. Membership of Learningguild is open to everyone who wants to go on learning and help others learn. The normal fee for the above response to the essay-writing member is in Australia $35. Other arrangements can be made, especially for those for whom that amount would be too much. Essay-writers are asked to seek to accord their essay not only with the requirements set out at the head of a Section 5 but also with the advice given in the page entitled “Seven features of a good talk or paper” that is part of Learningguild Documents Set A.
Testimonies to the value of the examination and the Certificate have been given by three leading scholars and educationists at Oxford, Melbourne/Princeton, and Boston. The historian Sir Keith Thomas, Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, and formerly President of Corpus Christi College, wrote in 2011:
Dr John Howes has shown me details of the repeatable examination for the Learningguild Certificate in Reasoning and Expression, awarded with a wide range of grades and levels. I think that the examination is admirably designed for its purpose, which is to test the candidatesʹ proficiency in reading and writing English, their powers of comprehension, and their ability to criticize a defective argument and present and defend a view of their own. Though neglected in recent years by many educational institutions, these are essential skills not just for academic study but for the effective conduct of business in many spheres of life. Not tied to any course or any syllabus (where some schools would teach better than others) or to expensive books, this examination tests intelligence and rewards individual study, and so would make a very helpful addition to university admissions procedures. For those involved in choosing between applicants for posts in business, industry and public administration, the Certificate in Reasoning and Expression would provide valuable assistance. Indeed there is a great deal to be said in favour of its adoption at a national level in English-speaking countries.
Professor Peter Singer, philosopher at Melbourne and Princeton, wrote in 2010:
To get an A, or an upper B, in the examination for the Learningguild Certificate shows abilities to write clearly, reason well, and see what is wrong with unsound arguments. Across a wide range of fields, these skills are in short supply, urgently needed and yet seldom directly tested. I recommend both to students and to report-writers that they visit the Learningguild website and take up the challenge of this exam.
Dr John Silber, President Emeritus of Boston University (and University Professor, and Professor of Philosophy and Law), wrote as follows in 2010. Dr Silber died in 2012.
For many years, both in the university and in my work with K-12 programs, I have noted the failure of our educational institutions to develop the essential skills of clear writing and clear thinking. The most rigorous and successful program that I have found to achieve this goal is [that of] Learningguild, developed and directed by Dr John Howes. As Chairman of the Board of Education of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I met with him [in 1998] to review his program and examined several of the half-yearly exam papers in Reasoning and Expression he had given through Learningguild since … 1987. They are the best tools for developing writing skills that I have seen. I am most impressed with his extraordinarily clear, wide-ranging and thought-provoking exam papers and constructive reports …. [The exam is] repeatable, so students who fail to achieve proficiency in their initial attempts receive direction and instruction [and] can review in detail where they fell short before trying again. Most universities make no provision for students to repeat an examination once they have passed it …. Few high schools or universities … provide additional courses in language and in reasoning to enable students to reach a high level of proficiency.
Universities can improve their programs, I believe, by recommending [Learningguildʹs website, with its past papers and reports,] to their students as a supplement to their courses. … When I was Chairman of the Board of Education of Massachusetts I hoped that the Learningguild exam might be required throughout the State. Unfortunately I did not succeed.
Availability of exam papers and reports
To download any of five recent pairs of paper and detailed report on the exam concerned, click below. Earlier papers, and reports on many of the exams, may be obtained on request from Learningguild, normally for $5 a pair ($4 for members), plus postage.