It is the nature of probability that improbable things will happen. — Aristotle
I think a lot about learning and displays of knowledge. Always a good test-taker in my schooling—whether I knew the answers or not—I’ve always had this fantasy that involves a multiple choice test. Say you have a test or portion of a test that is in a true/false format (this is important; what follows won’t work with more than two choices per question). We all understand that guessing at random will yield, on average, a score of 50%. We all understand that if you know all the correct answers, you can achieve a 100%.
But what if you know all the answers, but want to have a little fun? You can get a 0%… the lowest possible grade and theoretically the worst. The person grading the test may think it a feat to get such a low grade. But is it? In order to get all the answers incorrect, you have to know all the incorrect answers. And when you have only two choices per question, knowing the incorrect answer necessitates that you know the correct one. A 0% is really the same achievement as 100%, and is an equivalent demonstration of knowledge.
This works across the entire spectrum, with 50% as the mid-point. So, a 75% (C-grade) is as hard (or easy) to achieve as a 25% (F-grade). A 90% is the same as a 10%. Now of course you can’t grade with this approach: there is the expectation that you provide the correct answers, not avoid them. And it’s statistically possible for one guesser to get 10% as it is for another guesser to get 90%. But the probability of getting all of the wrong answers by accident is arguably less than the probability of a smart-ass, precocious student getting all the wrong answers on purpose… poking a bit of fun at expectations and conventional thinking.
Now if only I had thought of this in high-school and had had the wit and courage (and GPA) to spare on such a stunt. Of course, I believe in more rigorous tests of knowledge, and often wish—despite the general high-quality of my public schooling—that I had gone to some crazy progressive, hippie school where they graded me in “crocodiles” (thanks, Arrested Development) and not A’s or B’s, or had us do yoga at recess. I in no way advocate getting “bad” grades on purpose, all you K-12 students that are reading this blog right now (eh? eh?).
Instead, do well and get 100’s. Why? I’ll leave you with this Simpsons quote, from an Army commandant to Bart, Lisa, and other children, in the episode “The Secret War of Lisa Simpson”:
“The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots.”