Before I go much further, I must declare this post topic was prompted by a student who asked in class this week:

"Mr. Keltner, what's your favorite test question ever?"

My face must have expressed something as sinister as The Grinch, because he quickly said "Oh, look at him. He's plotting a new favorite one right now."

Actually, one of my most enjoyable testing experiences was the culmination of a three-week long practical joke I played on a student, in my first year of teaching. My students knew by then that I had played two years of college tennis and, since our school does not currently have a tennis team, they asked if we could start sort of a Tennis Club to get together and just go play from time to time. No big deal.

The first time we actually went to play, though, I brought my accumulation of 5 rackets and a couple extras I'd borrowed from the P.E. teacher to make certain all those tagging along would have one to play with. When we arrived at the tennis courts, I dropped my bag near the gate and an enthusiastic, athletic, left-handed (you'll see why this is important soon) student crowded in front of his buddies to get 'dibs' and asked me "So, does it matter which one we use or not?"

My collection of racquets, as well as the "lefty racquet."
Without missing a beat, I shot back a question of my own: "Wait, you're a lefty, aren't you? Then you'll need the one with the extra crossbar on the throat of the racket." Indeed, I had one such racket, supposedly built to offset some of the twisting that can come from off-center contact with the head of the racket. 

A lefty righting--er, writing.
He shot back a puzzled look and said "Wha--why?" I did my best, grossly exaggerated impersonation of a left-handed person writing as if they were trying to write while holding an overstuffed teddy bear in front of them. "You know how lefties tend to write like there's someone directly in front of them? Well, that crossbar is supposed to offset that tendency so you don't constantly hook your shots into the fence."
"Oh, well why do you have one?" a student from the back piped up, not helping my case at all.
"I won it from a guy who couldn't pay his wager in cash." I responded, again without missing a beat.

And so, Tennis Club went on, a good time being had by all, right- and left-handed players alike.

Now, how does this relate to a test question? Fast-forward a few weeks in the Statistics class I was teaching with all the Tennis Club enrolled in it.  We had an exam coming up, one component of which was categorizing variables as qualitative or quantitative, as well as discrete or continuous.  I incorporated the question below into the exam, letting our left-handed student finally discover he had been the butt of a joke for quite some time (in the mean time, we had gone to play 3 more times, each time with him racing to get the "lefty" racquet). Here it is:

Categorize each of the variables below as discrete or continuous:





The Olympic gold medal-winning 100-meter dash time.

A city's ZIP code.

Amount of annual rainfall in Keltner, Kentucky (yes, it's a real town).

Number of weeks we can trick [lefty student's name here] into believing there is such thing as a left-handed tennis racquet.

Average wait time at a stop light in the Kansas City metro area, in seconds.

So, as more and more students progressed through the exam and saw that question, I heard snickers break out in little spurts from those who were "in" on the joke.  Eventually, the student at whose expense the joke was made arrived at that part of the exam and, breaking the traditional silence during exams, blurted out "Keltner, you're a jerk." The rest of class erupted in laughter and went on completing the exam.  Again, a good time was had by all.

Recently, I found out that the lefty student was going to get married and I insisted on having the right to include this story as part of a speech at his ceremony. He declined the offer.

So, until I am able to include an open-response item on an exam to the tune of "Spell 'asymptotic behavior'," which I am certain students would treat as a trick question ("Did he misspell it on purpose so we'd get it wrong or is it really as easy as copying what he wrote?"), I have to sit back and take solace in the outcome of the elaborate practical joke that wove its way into a Statistics exam.

I want to leave you with the words of George Fritz, a quick-witted rancher from my hometown who, if you had never met him before, it didn't take long to make his acquaintance. An oft-used joke he would play on a new face went like this:
   "I bet you a dollar I can tell which shoe you put on last each morning."
   He would then proceed to scan the person up and down, looking curiously at their shoes briefly, then look them in the eye again.
   "Your left. You put on your left shoe last each morning."
   The newcomer would often look befuddled, second-guessing as to whether his prediction was accurate or not, as George would interject: "Well, don't you always put on one shoe, then whatever one's left, you put that on last? So, you put on your left shoe last?"
   Of course, as the person reached for their wallet to pay up on the wager, George would insist you donate the dollar to your favorite charity: yourself.  I never grew tired of seeing him get the better of someone with that joke.


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