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Ask a Silly Question…

There’s a small book, practically a booklet, titled F for Effort. It’s sort of a case study in stupid test answers.

Or is it? To be sure, some of the answers betray ignorance, or are simply lazy. Doodling over the cylinder illustrated on your geometry test to make it resemble a section of a sushi roll and answering “Sushi!” instead of reporting the cylinder’s volume and surface area is the work of a student who hadn’t bothered learning the correct formulae. But such answers aren’t very entertaining, and so are relatively rare in the book. Here’s some other entries:

Asked to name a pair of vertical angles in a geometric diagram, one student wrote “Lucy” and “Evan” (or something like that) in the wedges of two angles. But mark you: he did indeed label vertical angles.

Asked to name one advantage of sexual over asexual reproduction, one student replied, “It feels good.”

The classic “Magellan circumcised the globe with a big clipper” was probably apocryphal in the first place, and almost certainly didn’t start here.

The sushi answer above is a kid entertaining himself by doodling because he doesn’t know enough for the test to keep him busy. The others seem more likely cases of kids entertaining themselves with playful answers because (1) the material is boringly simple, and (2) they know full well their grades for the semester are safe. In which case, these are smart test answers. Smart-ass answers, yes, but also smart. I was guilty of a few of my own in my school days, and I assure you it wasn’t because I didn’t know how to identify a non-convex polygon. More likely, it was because I knew grammar well enough to find humor in poorly-worded test questions.

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