Tips had another question I thought was interesting.

How about those problems with unfamiliar twists that supposedly show whether the students can think independently? The logic here is questionable, to say the least. Figuring out a new way to tackle a quantitative problem on a time-limited test reflects puzzle-solving ability as much as anything else. If tricky problems count for more than about 10–15% of a test, the good puzzle-solvers will get high grades and the poor ones will get low grades, even if they understand the course content quite well. This outcome is unfair.

The real reason I thought this was interesting is I was reading in one of the Chicken Soup books and there was a single story that caught my attention. I read it in July and I still remember it.

A faculty member was asked to look at a physics test and say whether the student should pass or not. The student was supposed to have explained how to find out how tall a building was. The student wrote, “Stand on the roof; let a string down; measure how long it was when it hit the bottom.” The physics prof was distressed by the answer. But the student, understandably, said that it was an adequate answer.

So the judging faculty member asked the prof if the student could take the test again. He did. He came up with three other ways to measure the building’s height. None of them were what the physics prof wanted.

Finally the faculty guy asked the student if he knew what the prof wanted. “Yes.” Then why, the guy asked, didn’t you give it to him? “Everyone is always telling us we need to think. Then when we do, they don’t like it.”

So… Be warned. If you are teaching, you might get someone who knows the “right” answer or the “correct” way to derive something and yet they won’t answer the question that way. (See Snopes for origins of the story.)

It also reminds me of the Physics Nobel Prize winner who was asked to take the SAT. He flunked it. He answered every question correctly, but not the way the SAT wanted it. (Couldn’t find that on Snopes.)


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