How to Pass a Test from Hell

A young friend sought me out, crying, because she had just failed an online test.

“I’m a failure! I’m doomed! I’m going to be thrown out of college!”

“Whoa, calm down, what’s going on? You’re smart, something’s going on here. We’ll figure it out.”

I was an adjunct professor for two colleges and designed  a few curricula, including the tests for them. I had this. I thought. My young friend’s tests were open book tests. “Are the answers in the textbook or from classroom notes?” “Textbook.” “Are the tests timed?” “No.” “Then it’s just a question of careful reading, right?” “No! The questions are stupid.” “Like what?”

“Like Technician A says a 3/8 mm wangadoodle-bob should be used to test compression, while Technician B says string theory is only comprehended by fans of Vampires in Heat. Who is correct? Technician A, Technician B, Neither, Both.”


“I made those up, but that’s how stupid the questions are,” she insisted.

I watched her take the next test and she was absolutely right. Technician A and Technician B disagreed about everything in a very obfuscating manner. Some sadistic professional test-maker had constructed a test from hell, a test that does not measure learning, but measures the students ability to decipher the test maker’s personal and diabolical Davinci Code.

How to defeat the test from hell? 

“Here’s what I would do: Get a group together and take the test online, with input from everyone. Since it tells you the answers at the end, you will all have all the answers.”

“Everybody will start getting the same grade.”

“Right. That is your protest against a test from hell that makes up your entire grade. They will have to come up with a way to test what you are actually learning. Isn’t that the purpose of education?”

“You know, sometimes I wonder…”

Sometimes I wonder, too.

Technician A Technician B
Technician A
Technician B

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