May 28, 2023


Innovation Leader

Exam Question Hailed as ‘Genius’ by Internet but Not Everyone Is Convinced

An open-ended exam question has divided the internet with some hailing it as “genius” while others branded it “massively unfair.”

It was first highlighted by evolutionary scientist Rebekah L. Rogers, who took to Twitter to share a snapshot of the question with her followers.

“I kind of like this exam question,” she wrote alongside the image.

The question reads: “There’s something you spent time studying that wasn’t on the exam. What is it and how does it work? Explain in detail.”

At the time of writing, Rogers’ post has been retweeted over 11,000 times, earning more than 110,000 likes in the process.

Plenty were impressed with the format of the question.

Dr. Jason Holliday, a professor at Virginia Tech, branded the question “genius.” “I’d like to also allow for this in seminars/talks,” they added.

Jannice Friedman, an associate professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada, was also in favor of the approach. “I’ve had students write great questions (that I use on future exams), and sometimes answer their own question wrong,” she said.

Sara Goeking, a researcher for the U.S. Forest Service, highlighted how the question has real-life applications too. “This is basically the last question I like to ask in job interviews: what did we not ask that you wish we would have?” she explained. “Tell us anything else about you that you want us to know.”

King’s College London Organic Chemist Andre Cobb was not convinced though, calling it “too open ended and non-transparent to be a fair question.”

“How would you grade this between different boundaries? How much should someone write?” he asked.

Responding directly to Cobb’s criticism, one Twitter user posting as merlinpat77 highlighted why this kind of question could add value to the examination process. “A question without boundaries, while subjective, means that students who may have learned a ton but sucked at the test can actually show off their knowledge here and ideally earn make up points,” they explained.

Software developer Kyle Lambert was also unsure, commenting: “As someone whose academic success hinged on good memory and predictable test structure rather than studying and prep, I think this would have made me panic a little bit.”

Johana Sarahi countered his criticism though, suggesting that, if anything, the question was an attempt to create “balanced testing for all.”

“There’re always things that Never show up on tests and are hard studied,” she said. “Wouldn’t this type of question then benefit people who don’t ‘succeed’ off of memorization, who also get stomach sick because of tests with said structures?”

Speaking from experience, another Twitter user, Matt Schneider, wasn’t so sure. “I got a question like this on an exam once and it sent me into full panic mode,” he said. “I sat there racking my brain, trying to figure out which SPECIFIC thing the professor had told us to study, but left off the test to see if we noticed.”

Sarah Grynpas, meanwhile, was vehemently opposed to the concept. “They’re sneaky personality tests,” she wrote. “A way for strangers to judge you based on their own weird biases. They’re massively unfair.”

Newsweek has contacted Rogers for comment.

The viral post comes as part of an ongoing debate around the benefits of standardized testing in educational settings.

The University of California system has officially ended the use of standardized testing scores when evaluating applicants for admission. The UC system committed in 2020 to stop using the SAT and ACT, following criticism that exams were biased against students from low-income, disabled or minority backgrounds.

The UC Davis Admissions Office told KCRA applicants will now be evaluated on GPA, extracurriculars, coursework and their responses to three randomly generated essay questions.

The question comes to light several years after a baffling math conundrum on a Chinese exam paper went viral.

Another exam question left people stumped—despite it featuring on a second grade exam paper.

An exam paper and pencil.
Stock image of an exam paper and pencil – an open-ended exam question has earned praise from some and criticism from others.