From genital mixing to buffet zones: 7 classic 'exam howlers'

The finest malapropisms and typos the sector has seen in our look back at the winners of the last five years

June 23, 2015
stalin, exam, howlers,
Source: Alamy

Times Higher Education is inviting entries to its annual "exam howlers" competition - a chance for scholars to share some of the more off-the-wall errors that they have encountered.

The deadline for entries is Friday, 26 June (send us yours), and if you need some inspiration, look no further than some of the recent winners. 

Last year, John Milliken, lecturer in education at the University of Ulster, took the crown when revealing a student’s claim that "the [hole in the] ozone layer was caused by arseholes".

"He probably meant aerosols, but then…maybe not," Dr Milliken told Times Higher Education. Another favourite from the 2014 crop was the statement that Google is "one of the two main suppositories of data in the world", submitted by Verity Black, information technology programme director at the University of Sheffield.

Two years ago, we learned that "sex has puzzled biologists ever since it was discovered by Darwin and Mendel".

This unlikely union of two eminent Victorians was sent in by Adam Hart, professor of science communication at the University of Gloucestershire, who spotted it in the opening sentence of a student's answer in an exam on the evolution of sex.

According to one unfortunate second-year student in 2012, "in 1945 Stalin began to build a buffet zone in Eastern Europe". Kevin Ruane, professor of modern history at Canterbury Christ Church University, was victorious for that submission. He was closely followed by David Ganz, emeritus professor in palaeography at King's College London, who was tickled by a claim that "most books were written on valium" in the Middle Ages, rather than on vellum, which historians have led us to believe.

The "genital mixing action" proposed by one food science and technology student in 2011 was perhaps not the most appropriate piece of advice, but it certainly pricked the attention of Ann Wood of the department of biochemistry at King's College London. "I think the student meant 'gentle'," Dr Wood wrote, "but it was wrong anyway."

In 2010, a lecturer at the University of Portsmouth, reported that a student "wrote about 'anus crimes' all the way through their essay".

"I finally realised they meant 'heinous crimes'," the lecturer - who wanted to remain anonymous - added.

To enter this year's competition, email by Friday, 26 June

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Reader's comments (1)

The same old tired crop of apocryphal stories and made-up quotes.

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