Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Never Mind GCSEs, Judge Students by Their Howlers

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Never Mind GCSEs, Judge Students by Their Howlers

Article excerpt

Byline: Harry Mount

ANOTHER summer, another sundappled shot of pretty 16-year-girls hyperventilating at their GCSE results. It's the 21st year in a row that the number of A and A* grades has gone up; that's every year since the exams were introduced. More than twothirds of exams were marked with a C or better -- another record.

You can go on arguing for ever whether it's grades or teenage brains that are being inflated, and you won't get a definitive answer. But you can get a better guide to the state of young brains from the actual things they write. And, when it comes to stupid howlers, the Times Higher Education Supplement this week has got a lovely list, submitted by university lecturers.

One cinema student at Leeds University -- oh, to do a course where DVDs are homework -- referred to a film being made undercover "to draw attention to human rights abuses in the Best W**k and Gaza". A biology student at Staffordshire University wrote a whole essay about the science of gnomes, meaning genomes. A firstyear politics student at Royal Holloway, University of London, in a paper on electoral systems, referred to one called "first parcel post".

Before we get all doom-and-gloomy about the idiotic flower of our youth, it's worth remembering that this isn't the first time students have made silly mistakes. In 19th-century Oxford, Gladstone may have been studying algebra, hydrostatics and Herodotus but he had some pretty dim contemporaries; like the classicist who'd miscopied a friend's essay on Greek tragedy.

"Who's this Bophocles you keep referring to?" said his tutor. "Surely you mean Sophocles?" "Well, it says Bophocles here," said the student, pointing at the essay.

A lot of the modern mistakes are, like the Bophocles incident, just slips of the pen. They get more worrying when they are signs of a misunderstanding of the English language, as with the student who wrote to his tutor at the University of Central Lancashire: "Will you please be a referee for a job for which I am appalling? …

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