VERSA | Brain damage, sadism and ‘a bloke down the pub’. What examiners think of students.

Exam season. That bane of student life. Friends at other unis finally step up to the level of work you’ve been doing all year, and you are library-bound, day-and-night, with your soul withering away like your pink carnation. Some other publications might look to provide you with encouragement in your hour of need, just as your tutors will have probably OKAY maybe FINE most likely didn’t, but might have, attempted to reassure you and tell you that everything will be fine. As long as you’re still alive by Saturday of 8th, you’re not their problem anymore.

Never fear, though! VERSA is here to let you know that, despite the fact that you will almost certainly never be anything more than mediocre in the eyes of the academics who accepted you into this university, despaired at your lack of attendance in lectures, and pretended to listen to your waffling undergraduate bullshit, everyone before you has been distinctly average as well. Indeed, the issue of lecture attendance is not a new one at our esteemed university, as a Spanish Prelim in 2013 apparently took great joy in pointing out:

“For undergraduates studying at Oxford, the sentence ‘How many lectures did you miss this term?’ may have been a touch perverse”

Mind you, at least the “overall standard on the paper was high” from the Spanish students. Last year’s Theology finalists, however…

“The examiners wish more students had earned more positive marks.”

Nice of the examiners to let the theologians down gently. As for 2012’s first year philosophers, though:

“Here our experience of the effects of brain damage is clearly relevant,”

Maybe this can also account for some of the issues that some candidates experienced with spelling. Like the psychologists in their 2013 Prelims:

“A disconcerting number of candidates seemed to find it difficult to express their thoughts in writing.”

Although having said that, it seems VERSA are not the first to uncover this issue. Overheard at Oxford provides the following (and the writer can only express surprise at the lack accusations of ableism from the Cuntry Living crowd on this post – “Why does it matter if some people choose not to conform to society’s oppressive standards of grammar and spelling?!”):

And whilst some struggled with the words that do exist within the English language, others were determined to introduce their own submissions to it. VERSA can’t help but feel that Oxford examinations are not the ideal time or place to do this. The first year French cohort of 2011 had a veritable wealth of new terms for our language:

“there was some problem with written expression in a number of the weaker papers generating a lexicon of neologisms including: revealment, disguisal, indignance, mythicisation, problemental, accusal, pedanticism, preferation and the wonderful sanscript”

VERSA wonders just how it came to be discussed in an exam before its existence in order to justify the coining of the term “problemental”. French examiners were not alone, it seems, in being delighted by the neologisms of students. Spanish examiners seemed to find last year’s freshers’ work in the field just as pleasing:

“In this latter regard, spelling was not always the candidate’s strongest suit: though evocative and even picturesque, ‘polyptotem’ is inaccurate (as is the Latinism-by-analogy, ‘polyptotum’).”

Although too much seemed to be off the cards as well; a translation on a playful, humorous text on Uruguayan beef led to the following:

“Several more successful candidates had quite a lot of fun getting the humour of the piece; honourable mention goes to the student who had Espina’s animals “hoofing up a fuss” in the second paragraph, although flying them off to “para-dice” was perhaps a pun too far for this examiner.”

Hispanists, though, were not the only ones to struggle with translation. One fresher reading French last year managed an amusing little slip up:

“The most amusing translation was prompted by the phrase ‘he came out from behind the desk’: ‘il sortit du derrière de sa secrétaire’.”

For those not blessed with the gift of French, this translates as: “He came out of his secretary’s bottom”. Saucy. This sort of raunchy confusion was not merely restricted to French, however. A PPE Philosophy Prelim from 2013 featured

“A couple of scripts [that] confused the sadist with the masochist, which resulted in very muddled argumentation.”

The same report also seemed to include some commentary on the political leanings of candidates:

“As in previous years, bureaucracy and administrative structures were avoided by the candidates.”

Meanwhile, some students from a 2013 English Prelim report issued a slightly more, errrm, controversial pronouncement:

“Not reading the question or the rubric attentively enough to pick up on either the nuances or the wider implications of themes also proved detrimental, as with the “feminist humanity” of question 5, with a small number concluding that humanity will always triumph over feminists.”

Fortunately though, some candidates managed to be more perceptive to the prevailing public opinion; the report on last year’s German Prelims noted:

“At a time when the image of bankers is at something of an historic low, it seems almost unsurprising that some candidates heard in the ‘dunklen Wirtschaft’ a primary reference to dark financiers and a corrupt economy.”

The obvious was, unfortunately, something that seemed to elude the first year PPEists of 2013:

“but they would have been better inspired to accept, for the sake of argument, the common sense intuition that death is bad”

VERSA will leave the jokes to write themselves with that one. At least they managed to be coherent though, which is more than can be said of last year’s theologians, commenting on a passage from the New Testament:

“Candidates who appeared simply to be trying to drown the examiner in a tsunami of verbiage were marked down accordingly, but there were mercifully few of those…”

Very Biblical. More so, certainly, than this extract from Overheard:

And finally, VERSA will leave you with perhaps one of the more confusing comments from last year’s exams, taken from a Spanish Prelim:

“And with regard to the student who produced for paper IIA a rather attractive pencil sketch of Frau Pietzine in front of the confessional, one can only ask quite how s/he had the time. Is this perhaps the strongest evidence to date of the need to lengthen the passage or shorten the time available to candidates?”

VERSA would like to wish you all the very best in whatever exams you have left, safe in the knowledge that your incompetence will likely be ridiculed by examiners and laughed at by people on the internet at some point in the future.