What lecturers think when students say…

Now, you might think that I’ve turned into a jaded and cynical old man when you read the following. And you might be right. I should also emphasise that there are many things students say that are not silly or irritating.

As for the rest…

Student: I don’t understand X. [Silence] (Extra points for incoherent babbling between the words “don’t” and “understand”.)

Lecturer: Okay. So you’re going to fix that, right? I mean, there is all that stuff I’ve been saying for the last N weeks, which you’ve been paying money to hear about. Quite a lot of money, if you recall.

Student: What do I write here? (Extra points for saying this after a detailed explanation has just been given.)

Lecturer: What should you write, or what you’re going to write? From the looks of things, you’re going to write total bullshit — oh look, you already have — because your question demonstrates a preoccupation with the mindless act of putting ink on paper to the exclusion of actual learning. Of course, the real trick is to write the correct answer, but this may unfortunately require you to understand all the stuff I’ve been saying.

Student: How should I format my answer? (Extra points for total misunderstanding of where and why marks were actually lost on the last assessment.)

Lecturer: You have two options: you can format it so that I can understand it (looks to the contrary notwithstanding, I am in fact an ordinary human being), or you can make it look like gibberish. Now, having thought carefully about the implications of those two options, you may be inclined to ask how to do the former, to which I humbly advise you to learn your shit and stop conflating your lack of understanding with a mere “formatting” deficiency.

Student: You took X marks off me here — that’s too harsh! (Extra points for inventing a rationale based on a vague and completely fictitious set of Rules of Marking.)

Lecturer: I took X marks off because you were wrong, a fact you’re not apparently disputing. I must now point out that being wrong isn’t a good place from which to be arguing for different marking criteria, since your judgment is now compromised both emotionally and intellectually — a double whammy of fail. In trying to diminish the importance of your first error, you are in fact compounding it with a second one. Perhaps we should revise your mark downwards a bit more…

Student: What do you mean by this question here? (Extra points for not saying anything else at all.)

Lecturer: Is that a trick question? The words are right there on the page. They go together into sentences to represent meaning. Would you like some different words? You know we all love to spend hours flailing around for alternate phrasing without the slightest clue as to what part you don’t understand.

Student: This question is ambiguous. (Extra points for saying “sort-of ambiguous”.)

Lecturer: Ah, now sometimes that does happen. But hopefully it has also occurred to you that a question may well appear ambiguous if, in fact, you have no idea what you’re doing. Let’s not jump to conclusions.

Student: Is the exam going to be hard? (Extra points for having failed everything so far.)

Lecturer: In the far future, science will have unlocked the mysteries of the human mind, and I’ll be able to peer into your head in order to predict the intellectual and emotional challenges that you in particular will face when confronted by a series of questions assessing your personal level of comprehension. Until that time, why are you asking me how hard you will find it?

(In fact, should said future come to pass, I wouldn’t need to give you an exam in the first place, so actually the question never makes sense.)

2nd/3rd-year student: I need some help with [basic introductory concept]. (Extra points for having come to this realisation after an entire semester, or even an entire year, of needing to have already understood said concept.)

Lecturer: Yes, funny thing about university courses (or at least those not yet dumbed down to the point of irrelevance) — you actually need to know the stuff you get taught in first year. Another way to put this might be: you actually need to know the stuff you’ve been paying other people to do for you and fraudulently submitting as your own work.

Student: Yes. (Extra points for saying this in response to something that could not possibly be interpreted as a yes-or-no question.)

Lecturer: You haven’t understood a single thing I’ve just said, have you?

11 thoughts on “What lecturers think when students say…

  1. Oh dear Dave, you’ve spent too long talking to Mike. You haven’t started buying Powerball have you?

    • Lotto irritates me, but I take great pleasure in annoying superstitious people by pronouncing that problems are solved and things will go well.

  2. I feel your pain right now… students asking about starting an assignment 2 days before it is due, then complaining and asking for an extension when they can’t finish the assignment they have been given 2 months to do in 2 days. I almost want to print off this post and stick it on my wall.

  3. No, after reading this post, I don’t think you’re any more jaded or cynical as to when I knew you when you were young. 😛

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