The Test That Stumped Them All

Dream Theater sings a song called “The Test That Stumped Them All” and, after today’s Principles of Logic test, I couldn’t think of a better tune to crank up on my long drive home.


Every minute spent studying was a minute I’ll never get back.

I was so frustrated that I sent the professor the following email when I got home:


Dr. – ,

Once again, I came away from taking an exam feeling that everything I studied and all the hard work I put into trying to comprehend the material was in vain.

First, the discrepancies between what is presented in class and in the book are getting frustrating.  Take the “vicar” argument for example.  When I did the example in the book, I was able to construct a tree that proved the argument valid.  Then, almost as an afterthought in the final class before the test, you threw us a curveball with the “but not both” or exclusive interpretation of a disjunctive sentence, and then very quickly constructed a complicated tree that, if I remember correctly, never closed before time ran out.  When the argument was presented on the test, there were so many conflicting things going through my head that even taking the route presented in the book lead to an open tree – not the case when I solved it the first time.  I checked and rechecked my work and couldn’t find a way to recreate the closed tree I constructed while doing the exercise for homework.  Maybe in my frustration I missed something.

Also, I went over my notes several times before the test and rechecked them after the test.  The concept of the corresponding conditional was covered in the middle of February – before the last test we took – and was presented as something that, while important, would be something we’d come to understand in time.  To the best of my knowledge – and I’ve been to every class – this concept was never covered again, and was never mentioned in any subsequent review.  Seeing the concept come up on this test was very disconcerting.

The two arguments, presented in the language of propositional logic, were also confusing.  Everything we’ve covered up to this point involved interpreting arguments and constructing trees to test for validity.  Yet the arguments on the test were presented in a form that seemed to require a different analysis, one you may have covered at some point but – again, to the best of my knowledge – not recently, or in a way that explained the concepts in an understandable way.  None of the trees I constructed closed.  Perhaps that was supposed to be the case, but the trees just felt wrong and my frustration at not being able to apply anything I studied toward a correct solution worries me.

Perhaps it’s time to chuck the text, or merely pull examples out of the exercises, and place more stress on the material presented in class.  This would avoid any confusion and make our study time more productive.  As it is now, I never really know what’s important, or what the correct terminology is, or where to place an emphasis when I study.  I am a good student and make an honest effort to understand the material, but when it’s unclear what to study or what is really important, my time is not being used wisely.  As it stands, the material I made an effort to learn, while interesting and important in a proper understanding of the elements of logic, are obviously not what you are looking for when testing us and assigning us grades.  This is not a good situation to be in, and my grade will suffer due to the discrepancy.

Unless of course the test was supposed to be confusing and all our efforts were supposed to lead to inconsistencies and invalid arguments.  That could possibly be the case, but it wouldn’t seem to fit with the way things have been going thus far.

Or, maybe I’m just not getting it.  While I try and try to make sense of it all, maybe I’m simply not grasping the material.  However, I felt quite prepared for the test I thought we were going to take.  I came in with a smile, confident I was ready, and left with my head hung low. 

And to top it all off, I can’t remember if I put my name on my test – not a very logical thing to do.  Ugh!

I guess we’ll see how it all works out on Monday.  Until then, I’m shelving my notes and my textbook and forgetting about logic for the weekend.  My head hurts.

I hope you enjoyed your conference.


Yeah, he wasn’t even there to give the test! It was rescheduled for today when he realized he was going to be out of town. Had he been there? Gauging from the collective funk that seemed to settle over the class as the test dragged on, there would have been some not-so-nice words after it was all over.

And I did have a good time studying. The highlight was when my youngest son came into my room and asked me about what I was studying. When I explained some of it to him, he got it immediately. Before we were done, he was able to take the sentence “Either Ethan has blonde hair or he has blue hair, but not both” and translate it into the following well-formed formula:

(pνq) & ¬(p&q)

He was so damn proud of himself! And so was I. But now he’s afraid he’s too smart. Heading for “nerd”ville.

But that’s for another post . . .


2 thoughts on “The Test That Stumped Them All

  1. Holy crap!

    A) That letter had to have earned you an A+, regardless of how you did on the test. I mean, it’s just so LOGICAL!

    B) Your kid is SMART.

  2. I don’t think the letter worked. I didn’t get the test back today, but he did comment on some negative emails he received.

    At the end of the day, I think I just choked.

    Co’mon extra credit . . . !

    And thanks. My son’s a whipper snapper, that’s for sure.

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