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Comments about the Surveying Exams
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10/28/2017 at 12:49:58 PM GMT
Posts: 24
Comments about the Surveying Exams

          I hope at least some State Board members are listening in.  In Mike Chastain’s article “Growing Shortage of Land Surveyors” in the Summer 2017 Georgia Land Surveyor, page 19, top of right column, referring to the LSIT examinations, apparently nationwide, is the statement “The pass rate for first time takers with a [college or university] degree is 68%, as compared to 44% for non degree holders.”

          I would like to make some comments based on the surveying exams, mainly the law part, that I took for licensure more than 30 years ago.  Because these comments are based on the exam I took more than 30 years ago, I admit these assessments may not apply to the exams that are offered today, but, for obvious reasons, the State Board is not going to make copies of the exams or specific information about them available to the public.

          The mathematical parts of the exams I took were not all that rigorous but at least they were generally logical and relevant.  The law part was just about the stupidest, most idiotic thing I have ever encountered.  Whoever compiled those questions had never had any experience or education whatsoever in law and had never been anywhere around surveying because the questions bore no relationship to the real world of surveying and made no sense in any legal context.

          Several years before I took the surveying exams I took a course in undergraduate business law and a course in undergraduate forest law while a student at the University of Georgia.  The business law course covered such things as contracts, corporations, negotiable instruments, and torts.  The forest law course was mostly real property law and therefore very relevant to surveying.  Both courses were taught by professors who were lawyers.  The classes lasted two hours each.  Each night, in addition to the general reading assignments, we were assigned two or three cases that we were to study to the point that we understood them.  During the first hour of each class period the professor lectured and we took notes.  During the second hour the professor called on students at random to explain and answer questions about a case we had been assigned to study the night before.  We were graded on how well we articulated the issues of the case, our analysis of the logic the justices followed in arriving at their decision, and in answering oral questions posed by the professor and the other students about the case.  As part of the course we also did legal research in the University of Georgia Law Library and wrote papers based on that.

          There were two exams in each course--a midterm and a final.  The exams consisted of three to five hypothetical legal situations.  Each hypothetical legal situation was set forth in about a page of typed text and based on actual cases--cases that dealt with issues similar to the ones we had studied in the course, but not those same cases.  Because the questions were based on actual cases, they represented real world situations.  For each question we wrote a three- or four-page essay answer that had to be in complete sentences, using correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation.  Our answers were required to address the following:

What is/are the issue/issues in the situation?

What are the circumstances or evidence relevant to the issue/issues; as opposed to circumstances and/or evidence that are present but not relevant?

What is/are the applicable law for the issue/issues, given the circumstances and evidence?

Why is that particular law applicable to that issue or those particular issues?

How does the applicable law applied to the issue/issues lead to the conclusion that you (that is, the student) reach?

What is your conclusion or resolution of the matter?

          The last point above “What is your conclusion or resolution of the matter?” was the least important part of the answers we gave.  The primary focus of the questions was to test our ability to analyze situations and apply the applicable law to the analysis.

          Now compare that with the legal part of the surveying exam I took for licensure.  The surveying exam I took consisted of multiple-choice questions for which the questions were mostly one or two sentences that made little sense, or they were so broad that a brief answer might consist of several hundred pages of essay.  The choices offered were uniformly four sentence fragments, none of which really constituted a correct answer in any context and in several instances made little sense.  None of it bore any real relationship with reality.  Doing the exam was more a process of guessing which choice would be credited than choosing the “correct” answer.  I did pass the exam the first time I took it, but the thing was a joke and an insult.

          About ten years ago I received a letter from the coordinator of the State Board surveying exams.  He requested that I and some others come to Macon to devise legal questions for the surveying exams, for which we were to get paid for time and mileage.  The letter stated that, in addition, we would receive continuing education credit for any questions we submitted that were used on the exams.  This was the beginning of what was to prove a surreal experience.  I attended.  The coordinator seemed intelligent and conscientious, but stated up front he was not a surveyor, knew little about surveying, and was dependant on us for the questions.  My memory is he had a degree in psychology and he supervised the preparation and grading of exams for several state-licensed professions.  He laid down some broad parameters for the questions, among which they were to be multiple-choice with four choices for each question.  We stated to him it was not possible to devise valid questions based on the criteria he gave.  Without explanation, he said the questions had to conform to the criteria.  We did the best we could.  At the end of the day's long session I told the coordinator that I was willing to write questions at home and mail them to him, for which I would not charge for my time, and would not charge anything unless I was requested to come to Macon, for which I would charge for mileage only.  He was receptive to the idea and said I should send the questions I composed to him by registered mail.

          Over a period of several months I spent a good many hours at home making up questions that conformed to the required parameters, and I sent them to him by registered mail.  In the cover letters I requested information about particular aspects of the process with regard to writing the questions to better enable me to do the job.  Although my letters with the requests for information were addressed to the coordinator, someone at the State Board office other than the coordinator always signed for them.  I received no responses of any sort from him.  I sent e-mails to him asking if he received the letters, and for a response to them.  I received no response to my e-mails.  I then called him.  He said he had not received any of my letters but would check on it.  A few days later he called and said someone at the State Board had laid the letters aside and not delivered them to him.  He said he would review them and get back with me.  He did not contact me for several weeks, so I called him again.  He said he had gone over my letters and the questions I submitted.  He would not provide any specific answers about the particular matters I requested information about.  This general process went on for more than a year, and then I was informed he was no longer with the State Boards.  I was never able to get any feedback at all for my efforts.  Although the initial letter from the coordinator stated we were to receive continuing education credit for any questions we submitted that were used on the exams, I was never able to get any word whatsoever as to whether any of my submissions were used or not used.

          The only possible reasons I can think of for the type of legal exam I had for surveying licensure, and for the unrealistic parameters we were required to conform to in later devising questions for the state exams, are that the State Board does not have sufficient funding to employ qualified persons to spend the amount of time necessary to make and grade rigorous, essay-type exams; and/or, the goal is to dumb down the exams to a level that a certain minimum percentage of applicants are likely to pass.  But by so dumbing down the questions, the exams lose all touch with reality.

          Because the legal part of the surveying exam for licensure I took was largely a game of guessing which choice would be credited, a person having little knowledge of the matter was in almost as good a position for doing well as someone having extensive knowledge.  Repeating the statistic stated above, “the pass rate for first time takers with a [college or university] degree is 68%, as compared to 44% for non degree holders,” and assuming this statistic is roughly accurate for Georgia, I think if the exam questions were formatted so as to reflect real world situations that surveyors deal with, and the exams required valid, essay-type answers, which is the only real test of one’s ability to analyze given situations, the pass rate for college and university degree holders would be higher and the pass-rate for non-degree holders would be much lower, thus weeding out much of the incompetence that currently inundates our profession.

          A college or university setting is the only basis for really learning the legal aspects of surveying.  Colleges and universities have the specialists in the field who devote the necessary time to the instruction, the instruction is carried out in a rigorous fashion over an extended period, and colleges and universities have comprehensive law libraries and the other necessary specialized facilities.  At any rate, the four-year degree requirement could largely make up for the deficiencies that currently exist for qualifying persons to become licensed surveyors in that, for example, to the extent the exams for licensure are defective, applicants would have learned the necessary content anyway in college--and would have been rigorously tested on it in college.

          Regarding the issue of the declining number of surveyors, I don’t know that the four-year-degree requirement would improve that aspect, but a large portion of the most qualified licensed surveyors drop out of the practice after a few short years and get into other fields because they cannot compete with the widespread shoddy practices that are prevalent in our profession.

Farris Cadle

Last edited Monday, October 30, 2017
11/1/2017 at 10:22:01 PM GMT
Posts: 4
Well said.

11/9/2017 at 3:46:06 PM GMT
Posts: 1
Agreed, very well said.

11/28/2017 at 9:42:30 PM GMT
Posts: 2
I agree.

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