An array of splendid spelling errors, magnificent malapropisms and terrific typos make up this year’s selection of “exam howlers”.
Every year, lecturers marking examination scripts are asked to send Times Higher Education their most amusing student slip-ups and some entertaining mistakes have been spotted this summer.
Errors are easily made under the pressure of the exam hall or a looming essay deadline – and this year’s call has, not for the first time, prompted online debate about the fairness of highlighting such gaffes – but they have clearly provided light relief for many hard-pressed academics facing a stack of scripts.
“One of my students wrote at length about the right to a free trial,” said Aileen McHarg, professor of public law at the University of Strathclyde, whose student presumably had Netflix or iTunes in mind as well as Magna Carta.
Another legal gaffe was submitted by Mark Shanahan, teaching fellow in politics and international relations at the University of Reading, who said that more than one student expounded on the US Constitution’s second amendment of “the right to bare arms”.
David Cox, reader in criminal justice history at the University of Wolverhampton, was tickled by one student’s muddled recall of British history.
“The Gunpowder Plot is known to [be] one of the most memorable events in English history, which is celebrated annually with the chant ‘Remember, remember the fifth of December’,” the essay related.
Of course, some blunders contain more than a grain of truth, such as one student’s essay on the “defecation of the Amazon”.
“He had a point,” claimed Anne Danby, a tutor at the Open University, who submitted that entry.
As in previous years, several mistakes conjured up some alarming images, such as the Brunel University London student who explained that “in order to gather more personal and in-depth information and personal experiences, I had to use probes in my interviews”.
“Probing is the key to successful interviewing,” they added.
“I've always wondered whether I could use more probes, or possibly a cattle prod, to develop an ‘enhanced interview technique’,” mused Chris McMillan, a lecturer in Brunel’s department of sociology and communications.
Anna Notaro, senior lecturer in contemporary media theory at the University of Dundee, also highlighted one student’s unusual view of university staff, in which they pondered if the discussions around the merits of e-books should concern “scholars and people alike”.
“Clearly, scholars are not ‘people’ in this student’s eyes,” joked Dr Notaro.
That thesis might certainly be true if one student’s faux pas, submitted by Jackie Andrade, professor in psychology at Plymouth University, actually came to pass.
Writing about the university professor who become the “world’s first cyborg” when a silicon chip was placed under his skin, one student took this idea even further, stating: “Kevin Warwick had a chimp implanted into his arm.”
The winning entry will be announced in next week’s THE.