Friday, March 2, 2007


I think it may have been Peter Benchley who described what happened in a class he took at Harvard as an undergraduate where he was confronted by a final exam question for which he was completely unprepared--about the Cod War. Since he could not remember anything about it, he decided that instead of writing about it from the perspective of the two nations involved, he would write about it from the perspective of the cods. The professor was greatly amused, but gave him an "F" anyway.

Anyway, I must admit to being very impressed with these examples below of students who, when suffering a complete inability to remember how to solve these problems, got "creative":

Now, this one I must have learned how to solve in the permutations and combinations section of first year calculus at USC. To solve it for some fixed value of n is easy (although perhaps tedious for n > 5)--but the general solution I can't remember at all--and this "expansion" of (a + b) to n power is about all I could do off the top of my head now:

This one--well, they did say, "find X" not "find the value of X" didn't they?

I worked somewhere once where this was close to being the right answer:

No explanation required:

If you took calculus, you'll understand the wit of the student's "counterproblem":

In physics, you learn the principles with frictionless surfaces, dimensionless points, and lines that go to infinity. Why not introduce an elephant into the problem?

Clearly, the professor didn't understand the significance of the elephant on the ramp.

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