Saturday, December 21, 2013

Exams--Or Why I Want To Beat My Head Against My Desk

Indulge me while I sound like your Grandpa for a moment.  When I was in high school, I had to study for my exams.  I am certain there was a certain amount of reviewing, but nothing like what I spent the last ten days doing.  I gave my students a study guide that literally had every single thing they needed to know for the exam.  Now, they should have had everything they needed to know already in their notes, but we then spent a week working on the study guide in class just in case. Then, the last class before the exam, I gave them a practice quiz that had the actual questions on the exam, we graded it, and I gave them the correct answers so they would know what to study.  To ensure that they actually filled out the study guide, I told them that if they brought the completed study guide to the exam, they would receive a 100 point test grade.  I would say 10% showed up without the study guide.  Another 10% showed up without the study guide filled in.  I cannot begin to tell you how many times I heard the words "What study guide?"  or "I didn't bring a pencil."  These are moments that try teachers' souls.

Another teacher came to me with his study guide and his exam and said, "I need to show this to someone who understands--here is my study guide and here is my exam.  How is it possible for people to be failing my exam?"  I looked at the two--basically identical.  If you took any time at all to look at the study guide, you had, in order, the questions on the exam.  It was even more straight-forward than my study guide.  I told him that the answer was simple; the students either took the opportunity to study and do well or they blew it off.   It is, as my friend Andrea would say, a metaphor for life.

So what can we do at this point?  The only option is to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.  Here are some of my favorites from our exams.  We laughed so we wouldn't cry.

Mine was primarily on The Odyssey. The epic starts with Odysseus telling of his time trapped with the beautiful sea goddess, Calypso.  They basically had a torried affair that last years and now he's back peddling, since he has a wife at home.  What's a man to do?  He claims in a very Bill Clinton-like way that he was trapped in her "smooth caves" and "never gave consent in his heart."  The kids loved this.  The boys in particular could relate to woman trouble.  They loved the very dirty and evocative metaphor of the "smooth caves."  I might have sarcastically said "dem caves" at one point.  Never did I dream someone would use that in their essay.  Does this student think that is the actual name of the caves?  No clue.

Odysseus was an epic hero.  He was brave and bold, and the essay I had them write asked that they give examples of that.  These essays are my two favorites.  On the left you can see a discussion of
how Odysseus has no qualms saying "F___ that!" when the circumstances call for it, and on the right, how he has the balls to fight the Cyclops with confidence.  To give my student on the left credit, he didn't actually write out the F word--but I knew what he meant.  So here is my challenge, they clearly get the qualities of an epic hero, they read and understood the story, but their language is completely inappropriate.  Frankly, I'm just glad they studied.  We can have the "you don't write a paper with the same language you talk to your friends" convo when we get back in January.  P.S.  These are my Honors English students.

Here are a couple good ones from my frustrated Social Studies teacher buddy:

Question:  How did the Hebrew people change religion?
Answer:  They were Jews.

That makes me laugh for days.  It is also amusing that this person goes on to say that the Jews were Polytheistic.  Here is another good answer to that question on the right.  Trade.  How would trade change religion exactly?  They traded a bunch of gods for just one?  Please take a moment and look at the answer to #3.  Do you recognize that word?  We didn't and we really spent some time trying to figure it out.  If you have a guess, please let me know.  It might boost that person's grade a bit. 

Remember that episode of "Friends" where Chandler says that he can't find a girlfriend because his  standards are too high?  One of the reasons he gives is her mispronunciation of the word "supposedly."  Do you think this could be that person's relative? 

Question:  Did you spend over a week prepping your students for the exams?
Answer:  Supposibly.


  1. Ha! Kids are crazy. I can't even fathom putting "dem caves," in an essay! Haha, wow! What grade do you teach?

  2. Think the word is supposed to be conquering?