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Monday, December 2, 2013

Stupidist Test Question: #1

You are a junior in high school. You are 16 years old. You study three days in a row for your honors lit test, which will be on a contemporary novel. You feel confident. You know the book's major themes, characters, plots and why the teacher felt compelled to make you read it -- that is, why the story is important in terms of understanding the world.  You actually DID read the novel (rather than skim Spark notes) and never missed a day of class and paid attention and took notes. You believe that you "get it." You have especially enjoyed the class discussions on what the story means. You sit down at your desk the day of the test and see this:

How much money did the main character owe to the IRS?: 
a.  $22,000
b.  $27,000
c.  $32,000
d.  $14,000

You start to sweat. Damn. You look around. Do other kids actually have this dollar amount cpmmitted to memory? You get distracted. You skim the test and see other similarly random questions. You DO understand that owing money to the IRS is central to the book's plot -- the debt forces the main character to go to work in a camp, a place where most of the story unfolds -- and you would love to discuss that. Heck, you would even be able to stand up at that moment and provide a 10-minute soliloquey about the debt and how it effs up the main character's life. BUT:  You must answer the question. If you get it and the other random questions wrong, you just might not get into college. Seriously. Because you need an A+ to get into college. Not a B. Certainly not a C.

You sort of feel like crying. After class, you talk to your friends. They panicked over the same random questions. Maybe the teacher will curve it?  Ah, but herein lies the problem:  five or so smarty-pants kids WILL know the answer. When they studied, they probably made flow charts. They probably used five-color highlighters. They wrote down every dollar amount or number in the book on index cards and taped them to the walls of their bedroom.  Or not. Maybe they were simply born with photographic memories for numbers.

The worst part?  You just know that you will bomb the next test -- for the same reason. And you can not see a way around it.


  1. Appallingly shitty teaching of literature. Only Nabokov could get away with that kind of thing. He used to have exams where he'd ask what Madame Bovary kept on her night table. But that was for a college class in the 50's and nobody gave a shit grade you got. So the little joke was kind of funny.

  2. Yes. I have a whole bunch of these type questions. I'll post more. Here is the explanation: the teachers have told me that Spark notes and internet has ruined it for everyone. If teachers only asked about theme, etc., the kids would only read the spark notes.

  3. UGH. I was subjected to questions like this one on every test of my AP English class senior year of high school (in 2008, before common core). The tests were just matching columns of inane details like this. Normally I was an A student, and I would get Cs and Ds on these tests despite reading all the books and trying to memorize these kinds of things. Thankfully I had other great English teachers before her.

    1. Thanks for your input, Carla. Its kind of demoralizing after a while -- and I would think it would make a person actually dislike lit class.