A written exam is not a always a good measure of ability. Some students think better with a hammer than a pencil. Sometimes it's a learning disability, sometimes performance anxiety. Sometimes the exam sucks.
Try this on for size:
If a pesticide reaches groundwater, it will breakdown
a) Very quickly
d) Very slowly
This is an actual question on a certification exam. What's the difference between quickly and very quickly? I have no freaking clue.
Like life insurance, exams are a necessary evil. They measure a student's comprehension and the ability to express that understanding. Still, there are always questions that end up more tricky than challenging. And that's why I have extra credit.
It's not the type of extra credit that's super-challenging. Who invented the lawn mower and what was his daughter's name? If someone gets that right, they don't need extra credit. I give a little bonus at the end of an exam. All you have to do is answer a stupid question and -- boom -- two points.
I've asked everything from what's the last movie that made you cry to what's the most revolting food you've ever eaten. I provide students with my answer and then ask for theirs. Not only is it entertaining, but we learn a lot about each other. There's been some good answers over the years. This semester's Hall of Fame winner had me laughing for days. It comes from a rough-cut guy with a good sense of humor. It goes like this.
Looking back, what clothing or accessory have you worn in younger days that seems ridiculous now? It might have been a fad, maybe you were just cool or perhaps your parents made you wear it... whatever. Any way you slice it, "What was I thinking?"
The whole spandex fad in the 80s. Yeah, my mom made me wear spandex bicycle shorts in elementary school. Long and short. Me and my classmates had many black eyes.