Saturday, December 15, 2012

If This Is A Test—Someone Flunked

It is final exam week at Enema U.  This event produces some mixed emotions from me.  On the one hand, the population of the town drops by some ten thousand students.  This means I can drive to work next week without some hormone enraged student driving so close behind my truck that it looks like he is trying to become my own personal and private proctologist.  For a few weeks, the town is very quiet.

The downside to exam week is all of the exam papers I have to grade.  All semester long, I can delude myself that I am God’s gift to education.  Then I grade the papers and realize that I am just some old fool at the front of the room.  This year is certainly no different.  Please don’t misunderstand me; the majority of my students work very hard and learn despite the meager abilities of the professor they have to endure.  A few, every semester, however turn in tests that indicate they spent most of the semester pursuing interests other than academic.

Students have given me quite a few original answers over the years.  According to one student, the son of Charlemagne was ‘Louie the Slugger’ and Minie Balls (the Civil War era bullet) was the name of a woman pretending to be a man during the war.  I also have been told that the first man to walk on the moon was Walter Cronkite and that Santa Ana was the patron saint of Texas.

A good student under the pressure of the exam suffered a total mental block while trying to remember the word ‘bayonet’.  While writing a stirring account of Joshua Chamberlain’s defense of Little Round Top, her otherwise brilliant essay had a slight comedic touch when she explained how his men counterattacked down the hill with their “long stabby things”.

Years ago, I had two different students who each wrote essentially the same wild story about the cause of the Spanish American War.  I knew they hadn’t copied each other--they were sitting too far apart--yet each of them had written a crazy story about how Spanish pirates sinking the Bismarck had started the war.  I just had to know how this had happened and had both students come to my office, where they admitted they had studied together for the exam the night before.

“Well, you see, we had your study guide, but neither one of us had a copy of the textbook” one of the students explained.  “So we asked my father and he told us how the war started.”

“By any chance,” I asked, “had your father been drinking?”

“Yes,” the student admitted.

“Then tell your father he flunked, too.”

I have never been able to explain an error that seems to come up every year.  Some student will explain in great detail how the military victories of Robert E. Lee were due to his brilliant tactic of hiding his army up among the branches of tall trees and waiting until the Union army was passing below.  Then—without warning—the Confederates would leap out of the trees, down on the unsuspecting Blue Coats.

I cannot explain how this peculiar answer seems to reappear annually.  I have carefully searched all my lecture notes on the Civil War, and while I do mention trees occasionally (fighting in forests, etc.) not once do I have a single soldier climb any tree.  Is there a movie or a television show that depicts something like this?  I am open to suggestions.

Research papers are not much better: using the wrong word is a frequent problem for students.  For two of the more commonly confused words, I have the world's smallest PowerPoint presentation.  The first slide shows a photo of a soldier  in a black silk uniform, a member of the Viet Minh, commonly called the Viet Cong.  Underneath the photo is the caption:  Guerrilla Warfare.  The second, and last slide shows a still from the movie Planet of the Apes, a gorilla on horseback carrying a rifle.  The caption is:  Gorilla Warfare.  Unfortunately, my students seem to use both phrases interchangeably.

This semester, I co-taught a course with Professor Holland.  One of the students had a vocabulary problem that Professor Holland corrected artistically.  Sadly, the student never picked up his corrected paper.  Maybe he will read this blog. 

For years, I have included a cartoon on the bottom of my final exams--usually a single panel ridiculing either education in general or something dealing loosely with the subject the class has studied.  What I intended to be something of an ice breaker, turned out to be the actual test for one student.  The student (I’ll call her Lisa because that was her name) wrote for two hours and filled an entire ‘blue book’ about the cartoon.  She actually din not answer a single question on the test!

Unfortunately, this semester was no different than previous ones.  Somewhere in New Mexico is a student who believes that an ‘ironclad’ is not an armored vessel from the Civil War but the type of shield used by British soldiers during the Revolutionary War. 

The biggest surprise though was a student who completely misunderstood the test.  Ignoring the review session, verbal instructions, and even the written instructions, one of my students surprised me with a unique solution to the first section of the test.

While the student did use eight terms in his impromptu matching, and I am impressed by his unique-though ineffective—method of problem solving, I was shocked to learn that Oliver Perry suffered from such an obscure medical condition.

1 comment:

  1. It is amazing what the Professors can learn from the Students! You just need to keep an open mind.

    NM Ray