Friday, April 19, 2013

Amusing and appalling ... in equal measures

book review

Author: Richard Benson
Book: F in Exams: The Very Best Totally Wrong Test Answers

Exams can be frustrating, and often have a knack for flustering students into making silly mistakes, botching up questions that they would otherwise have been more than capable of answering. But sometimes there’s also another snag: what if you really don’t know the answer? What if, no matter how much you think, you simply draw a blank, and have no idea how to define the term, explain the concept, or solve the equation? If you’re anything like me, then you will still try your best to put something on the answer sheet that has even a remote chance of getting you some credit. But if you’re anything like the students in this book, then you will instead use this opportunity for something completely different: exercising your creativity and unleashing the comedian in you.

F in Exams: The Very Best Totally Wrong Test Answers is a collection of such amusing answers put together by Richard Benson. The book purports to offer “hilarious, real responses from students who realized that they had no hope of answering a question correctly, and decided to have a little fun instead.” The answers are arranged by subject (chemistry, biology, physics, math, business & technology, psychology, history & geography, and English). The material here ranges from witty and clever to simply unintelligent, and often seems to be amusing and appalling in equal measures. Here’s a taste of what the book has to offer:
Question: Steve is driving his car. He is traveling at 60 feet/second and the speed limit is 40 mph. Is Steve speeding?
Answer: He could find out by checking his speedometer.

Question: To change centimeters to meters, you _____.
Answer: Take out centi.

Question: Describe the term “stakeholder”.
Answer: A vampire hunter. Buffy being the most famous.

Question: What is a network?
Answer: When you chat to people you don’t like to try and get a job.

Question: Describe what is meant by forgetting.
Answer. I can’t remember.

Question: Name the successor of the first Roman emperor.
Answer: The second Roman emperor.

Amused? Then you will enjoy this book. Appalled? Then just wait till you read what else the students came up with.

The reaction F in Exams draws is decidedly mixed. For most students, grades aren’t a laughing matter; no one around me would have been amused if I didn’t even try to give proper answers and instead came up with smart alec-y responses, and I wouldn’t have been amused if my students did the same (and luckily, they never did). Which leads to an issue: are these answers even real? The book fails to mention its sources, doesn’t offer citations, and gives no explanation of the data collection methods. Sure it is meant to be entertaining, but is it really factual? Are these, in fact, real answers? If so, then how were they collected? Who were the students that came up with these amusing statements? And what were the teachers’ responses to them? Or did the author just come up with the answers himself? In which case, is the output amusing at all?

Overall, F in Exams is a (very) quick read – you will be done with the book in minutes – and its content varies from being witty to dim-witted; some responses are funny, others less so. And the validity of the “real” claim seems a little suspect, at least for some of the answers, a problem that could have been avoided by making use of a little transparency. Still, if you have ever wanted to scribble on your exam, sure that there’s no way to salvage the test and your grade, then you will relate to the predicament of these students, and if you need a small break from studying, then F in Exams will provide some laughs and a few moments of relief.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 18th April, 2013

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