If Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown is looking for a new sinister Vatican plot for his next novel, he need look no further than this year’s Times Higher Education exam howlers competition.
“In future all cars [will] be fitted with Catholic converters”, wrote one student at the University of Ulster in a paper on vehicle emissions.
That submission came from John Milliken, lecturer in education, who was also amused by another student’s claim that “the [hole in the] ozone layer was caused by arseholes”.
“He probably meant aerosols, but then…maybe not,” said Dr Milliken, one of the many academics who relayed the funniest student bloopers from this summer’s marking season.
One topical malapropism was entered by Verity Brack, information technology programme director at the University of Sheffield, after a student wrote that Google was “one of the two main suppositories of data in the world”.
Meanwhile, Josephine Kelly, a lecturer in business and government at Aston University, was intrigued to read that the coalition government had a “toff stance on tax avoidance”. On second glance, “toff” was actually “tuff” (tough), she noted – but maybe the former was more accurate.
There was also a new interpretation of London’s thriving social scene in the 18th century in a paper on the creation of the Spectator publication in 1711. “Within these coffeehouses, men from all different parts of the world could interfere with each other”, wrote a student in a paper marked by Andrew Rudd, lecturer in English literature at the University of Exeter.
Modern history was equally troublesome for a first year at the University of Southampton. According to Suzanne Reimer, senior lecturer in geography, the student observed that “globalisation has led to a growing interconnectedness between small-scale people and larger-scale cities across the globe” – probably a welcome benefit for those under 5ft tall.
But some entries fell into the simply “bizarre” category.
Britta Osthaus, senior lecturer in psychology at Canterbury Christ Church University, who teaches a course on the mental capacities of animals, was surprised to read that “octopuses are intelligent because they have been found to be able to predict the winners of football matches during the World Cup”, a reference to Paul the Octopus, the cephalopod that “predicted” results in the 2010 tournament.
And no exam howlers competition would be complete without a Second World War clanger. Alix Green, lecturer in history at the University of Hertfordshire, was baffled to hear that “Hitler’s role in the Second World War is often overlooked”.
The winning entry will be announced in next week’s THE.