Hotly contested potato

Prepare for some Darwin-on-Mendel action: it’s the ‘exam howlers’ 2013. Jack Grove writes

July 18, 2013

Terrifying typos, marvellous malapropisms and baffling blunders feature in this year’s crop of “exam howlers”.

Every year, lecturers marking examination scripts are asked by Times Higher Education to share their favourite student slip-ups.

A mixed metaphor from one student, who described Alain Resnais’ controversial Holocaust documentary Night and Fog as “a hotly contested potato”, caught the eye of Steve Hawley, head of media at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Manchester School of Art.

Another film studies student stated that several of Alfred Hitchcock’s recurring themes arose because he was a “torched Catholic”.

“Of course, in another era, he might well have been,” noted Martin McLoone, director of the Centre for Media Research at the University of Ulster, who submitted the entry.

Jackie Eales, professor of early modern history at Canterbury Christ Church University, was amused to read that “Britain under the Cromwellian Protectorate was a piranha state” - a description that perhaps falls into the “truer than you may imagine” category.

Meanwhile, a student of Alexander Maxwell, senior lecturer in history at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, confused the story of Pavlik Morozov, the Soviet youth murdered by his family after informing on his parents, with a more heartwarming tale. Morozov was “a Russian explorer who discovered the true meaning of Christmas”, the student claimed.

In keeping with previous editions of the competition, sex featured heavily in many of the bloopers. One student, writing on its evolution, opened her essay thus: “Sex has puzzled biologists ever since it was discovered by Darwin and Mendel.” “An unpleasant image,” suggested Adam Hart, professor of science communication at the University of Gloucestershire, on the unlikely union of the two eminent Victorians.

Nicholas Martin, reader in European intellectual history at the University of Birmingham, was surprised to read that “General Franco was supported by right-wing panties”.

Even microbes can be unwittingly sexed up: “Extremophiles can be defined as those that tolerate extremes of temperature, extremes of pH and extremes of pleasure,” wrote one student.

“I assume they meant ‘pressure’,” said Rich Boden, lecturer in environmental microbiology and biotechnology at Plymouth University.

Meanwhile, a final word of thanks goes to Keith Redway, senior academic in microbiology and molecular biology at the University of Westminster, and his colleagues, who submitted several gaffes.

“Nigella seeds can cure all disease except death” and “Ebola could lead to death, in some cases fatal” are among those that deserve a mention.

The winner will be announced in next week’s THE.

jack.grove@tsleducation.com

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