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I just read Ethics of awarding points for hilariously bad answers, and it reminded me of my Senior History exam in high school. I was confident in my knowledge and noticed that I had a lot of time left for the second half of the exam (the part where we were allowed to use our historical atlas), so during this second half, I often included a short joke comment between parentheses after the otherwise correct answer. For example, one of the questions I remember asked something about one of the European invasions of WW2, and after the answer itself, I joked about how it wasn't the first time they were conquered and listed a couple of other times they were conquered, like by the Greek, the Romans and a couple other groups I can't quite remember. I think I gave about half a dozen or a dozen jokes like that after relevant, for no other reason or justification other than because I felt like it.

My teacher afterwards told me she found it quite funny to grade my exam, though I cannot really remember anymore whether she adjusted my grades because of them. I don't think she detracted any points and while I can't remember for sure, I think she added a couple percentage points because I showed knowledge of the subject matter beyond what was required. Again, I just did it because I felt like it, though I'm uncertain whether I was influenced by remarks from a substitute teacher that they liked to laugh at absurdly bad exam answers in the teacher's lounge (again, high school, and in a special education school at that).

Now, obviously I didn't do this with the intent of getting a better score or something like that. I just did it because I felt like it, autistic brains are weird like that. But I'm wondering: Assuming an answer that's correct as far as you know, could it be a problem as a student to add a relevant joke to an otherwise correct answer? Could it impact the immediate and/or long term evolution of my grades, education and professional/academic life beyond just this exam, whether negatively or positively?

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  • What exactly do you mean? In most grading systems I know, the teacher has a lot of leeway and usually, nobody can override the grade. So are you asking whether there exist teachers who deduct inofficially points for jokes or who have a worse perception of you? – user111388 Nov 2 '20 at 14:16
  • @user111388 hmm, I might have inadvertently excluded the biggest reason as to why not to do this. I'll update the question. – Nzall Nov 2 '20 at 14:25
  • I still don't understand. Why shouldn't it depend on the teacher how they grade? One teacher may like it and laugh and give you better grades. One other teacher might think of it as a waste of their time and give you a worse grade. A third teacher might not care. All three do exist. is this the answer you are after or something else? – user111388 Nov 2 '20 at 14:28
  • @user111388 I don't know what answer I am after. Why else did you think I asked this? Like, is there some sort of unspoken rule that you need to know the answer to your question before you ask, defeating the entire point of asking questions? – Nzall Nov 2 '20 at 14:30
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    If the mark scheme includes marks for essay structure, I can imagine some marks being lost because the "joke" disrupts the flow of the essay. But the "invasions" example may pose much bigger problems than risking a couple of marks, as per @user2768's answer, especially since the plural pronoun "they" appears to direct the remark at the people of the invaded country, rather than at the state. – Daniel Hatton Nov 2 '20 at 16:13
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As I understand, your main question is:

Could it impact the immediate and/or long term evolution of my grades, education and professional/academic life beyond just this exam, whether negatively or positively?

Immediate grade: Obviously. People might have different rules on how they grade. Graders are usually humans who are impacted conciously and subconsiously by their students' actions (and how they speak, look etc.) One teacher might like you more for making jokes, one might be angry that you wasted their time, one might not find the correct answer because you wrote too much irrelevant things etc. One might not care. In grading, almost everything is possible.

Long term evolution of grades, life: Most likely not. If you have one teacher in different courses who likes you or doesn't like you because of jokes, this might play into other exams. However, usually, after a course is over, if at all, people care about the grade you got and not why you got it. It's unlikely that anyone will see the exam after the end of the course.

If you get extremly famous, it might be a nice episode about you that you made jokes on exams. Or not.

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  • "If you get extremely famous...". Definitely a line in your Wikipedia profile. But the upvote is for the caveat. – Buffy Nov 2 '20 at 16:46
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    @Buffy: I'd say it also depends on the joke. The one in the question probably not. – user111388 Nov 2 '20 at 16:48
  • Maybe get a line anyway, even if it is bad. Wikipedia profiles are written by others (or so the rules say). – Buffy Nov 2 '20 at 16:49
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I think the answer to this question is going to depend heavily on the teacher. Still, some points:

  • The linked question shouldn't be relevant, because that deals with a situation where the joke answer is clearly incorrect. In your case you know the answer and your response makes it clear you do.
  • If we believe the top-voted answers to this question represent attitudes as a whole, you could have written an incorrect joke and probably still be awarded full marks.
  • However, there are people who will grade you down if your joke is incorrect. Most teachers would probably grade you down anyway if the scoring were X/10 (as opposed to full marks/no marks).
  • Finally, your joke had better be funny, because if it offends the teacher somehow it could backfire badly. This is not always clear-cut, e.g. there could be competing versions of history (e.g. opinions on Fidel Castro are heavily polarized with some viewing him as a hero and some viewing him as a villain).

In other words, this should be OK as long as 1) your joke is technically correct and 2) your joke is legitimately funny.

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Writing extra stuff can turn into a bad habit. Clear, enjoyable "just the facts" writing is difficult. There are lots of things to pay attention to, and it's always possible to rewrite to make it better. Thinking about what jokes to add is a distraction you don't need. If you must do something, doodle on the paper (I've seen this on plenty of tests and it's fine).

The goal isn't so much to get better at writing test answers. Answering test Q's is practice for writing real essays, or technical articles, and so on.

As far as grading, extra jokes are only minor problem. Grading tests can be a chore and it's easiest when the grader sees a 100% correct answer, with nothing extra and can write 20/20 on top and move on. Beyond that, we don't always know it's a joke. We might take off a point because you think the Spartans fought in WWII. Sure, if you bring the test back in we'll see it was a joke and fix it, but that's a pain.

We actually tend to think the funniest test answers are the ones that are wrong in a very strange way (but we aren't mean about it, and never, ever say what student wrote it).

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could it be a problem as a student to add a relevant joke to an otherwise correct answer?

Yes: The invasion and conquering of a nation isn't funny. Joking about such events won't curry favor with examiners. Although examiners should be impartial, they are human and some impartiality could be lost.

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    Indeed. Depending exactly how that "joke" was worded, it might cross the line of an institution's regulations on racial harassment (or "making odious comparisons", as they called it in the 16th century - cf. Rait, 1918, Life in the medieval university, Cambridge University Press). – Daniel Hatton Nov 2 '20 at 16:21

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