I’m tempted to cut’n’paste my entry for 28 May 2011, written after marking a disastrous Literature quiz based on studying our handbook Introduction to English Literature. Yet, re-reading it, I notice that things are even worse this time around as, instead of 50 titles, the quiz covered only 20 –presumably those any self-respecting student of English should be able to identify by author and period. A colleague tells me that I should not write this entry as students might feel offended that I reproduce their mistakes here. Sorry, but in that case I must be cruel: these are not mistakes, they are something else that must be addressed urgently. Judge for yourself:

David Copperfield, by Charles Darwin (see also Sense and Sensibility)
Heart of Darkness, by John Connor (the hero of the Terminator series?)
Lord of the Rings, by, Lord Byron/ JK Tolkien (JRR Rowling?)
Middlemarch, by (literal): Brontë, the first one not Charlotte
Robinson Crusoe, by Oscar Twain from the Jacobean period
Sense and Sensibility, by Charles Darwin/ by Pope Alexander / by John Austen
The Time Machine, by Julio Verne (again??)
To the Lighthouse, by George Tenis
Wuthering Heights, by (literal) The Roberts: Charlotte, Anne, etc./ by Chatterine Brotën/ by Charlotte Wrontë / by The Brontës (in collaboration??)

For some strange reason, Thomas Hardy was named in possibly 70% of the exams as the author of A Passage to India. Some glorious misspellings include: Sheckespeare (no first name…) and Launance Stready… And what’s worse, much too often authors were named correctly but placed in VERY wrong periods. I could have dinner today, if I wanted to, with Mary Shelley and Charles Dickens.

Most students passed the quiz thanks to the second part, a multiple choice exam in which, I’m sure, luck had a share, big or small (as it is always the case with these exercises). In one extreme case a student passed with a 5 by scoring only 2/40 for the quiz and 48/60 from the multiple choice. Perhaps we need to correct that.

What worries me TERRIBLY is that the students’ imaginative quiz answers –and the many blank ones– reveal a WORRYING inability to study in a systematic way. The quiz is not what interests us but the process of preparing for it: we expected our students to draw their own charts, with periods and main authors. I know from the comments one of them made that they have problems discriminating between major and minor writers yet this one of the skills (or competences) they should be learning. As I wrote a year ago, the other worrying, not to say, SCARY factor is how the quiz results show that those approaching us lack the basic cultural capital a student of English should possess (and indeed acquire in the first year). Many of the quiz answers seemed to be shouting at us: ‘I don’t care, and you won’t make me care!!’ Or maybe, simply, I can’t make sense of so much raw data.
Food for thought…