Chris Blattman

Best exam question ever?

Tyler [Cowen] once walked into class the day of the final exam and he said. “Here is the exam. Write your own questions. Write your own answers. Harder questions and better answers get more points.” Then he walked out. The funniest thing was when a student came in late and I had to explain to him what the exam was and he didn’t believe me!

That is Alex Tabarrok, as related by Seth Roberts. As if I could admire Tyler more.

Future students of mine, beware?

67 Responses

  1. Am afraid this may not be original. There was a professor at Sydney University (forget what he taught) who set the following exam question: “Pose your own question and answer it brilliantly.” It was implicit that the grade would depend on the quality of the question and the answer. As anybody who has taught at university level knows, designing a good exam question (or essay topic) is very hard. Answering a question brilliantly, especially one you posed yourself, is even harder.

  2. Damned easy exam in *one* sense; I could put out an essay on “Why does Tyler Cowen persist in pushing proven-false beliefs?” without a sweat. Hard question, and there are some good answers.

    Damned hard exam in another sense. Good answers which Tyler Cowen doesn’t like will probably be given bad grades, because Tyler Cowen is not actually the most open-minded guy. Predicting what Tyler Cowen WANTS to hear… you see the problem.

  3. So my dad went to college in Syria some 40 years ago. They were in an engineering class that required an oral exam. This one student apparently had a really rough time passing (had taken the class multiple times already). He was on the basketball team and needed him to pass this class. On his 3rd time taking the test, all his friends were waiting for him outside of the testing room, hoping he’ll finally pass. He came out of the room uncontrollably laughing. Apparently, the professor really wanted to help him, he told him: ask yourself any question, and answer it, I’ll pass you. “guys, I asked myself a question, and I couldn’t even answer it.”. True story.

  4. And people have to pay tuition for that? One more example how American society is losing its coherence. This is a slap to the face for every single one of the working poor. Just think about it.
    The prof probably thinks he is amazing by giving that question to his students. But it is just an expression of narcism and maybe laziness. Arrogant egomaniacs ruling the blogosphere and the classrooms and they even get praise for that. When will it ever stop?

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