Gollum stars in exam howlers extended cut

“Eugenics was created by Charles Darwin’s cousin Gollum,” according to a student gaffe that formed a late entry in our annual exam howlers competition

August 10, 2013

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Darwin also figured in the winning submission in this year’s competition. That came from Adam Hart, professor of science communication at the University of Gloucestershire, who recalled a student’s paper on the evolution of sex that opened with the unfortunate phrase: “Sex has puzzled biologists ever since it was discovered by Darwin and Mendel.”

A late entry from Elizabeth Toon, a lecturer at the University of Manchester’s Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, offered another surprising insight on the English naturalist’s link with Gollum.

She pointed out the first-year student, writing in a history of medicine paper, probably meant Galton – as in the eminent Victorian polymath Francis Galton – rather than the JRR Tolkien character.

Other howlers that narrowly missed the first cut of student slip-ups include two from Dena Gilby, professor of art history at Endicott College, a private college near Boston, Massachusetts.

Writing about an ancient Minoan octopus flask from the Greek island of Crete, one student remarked that “every testicle was shown”.

Professor Gilby was also amused by another student’s description of an Egyptian king, saying “he was a pharaoh, not a common pheasant”.

Medical students provided several of this year’s clangers.

One error had a distinct Fifty Shades of Grey feel to it, with a student noting that “depression rates are higher in areas of high social depravity”.

That entry came from Jean McKendree, senior lecturer in medical education at Hull York Medical School.

Claudia Cooper, a teacher on the English for Medicine Programme at Oman’s Sultan Qaboos University, was also alarmed about one student’s observation in a paper on HIV/AIDS transmission.

When giving examples of “risky” behaviour likely to spread infection, a student listed “sharing a condom”.

Keith Redway, senior academic in microbiology at the University of Westminster, who submitted several entries, was amused by the statement that “the patient was homeless with no fixed anode”.

And Simon Woodward, principal lecturer in tourism at Leeds Metropolitan University, was interested to read about one student’s view on why holidaymakers might head to see one of Cumbria’s best-known historic landmarks.

“Hadrian’s Wall’s heritage assets include a complex system of forts and earthworms”, the student said.

Claire Hall, a teacher, was also keen to submit a student error, albeit taken from a GCSE history paper on Operation Barbarossa, Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.

“Stalin was extremely surprised when he was taken from behind by Hitler,” the student wrote.


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