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Test obscenity and its rewards

The fabulous Language Log has quite an amusing (and informative) posting today: Test obscenity, taboo avoidance, and prescriptivism. It is about how two websites, Times online and Associated Press, manage to avoid actually printing the obscenity which pupils wrote on the GCSE exam papers, and not so much about the fact that these pupils in fact got points for writing “f*** off” in answer to one of the questions – or, in other words, “an expletive starting with f, followed by the word ‘off’”.

Times online reports how the examiner’s decision is justified:

Mr Buckroyd, chief examiner of English for the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA), an examination board, said that he had given the pupil two marks, out of a possible 27, for the expletive.

To gain minimum marks in English, students must demonstrate “some simple sequencing of ideas” and “some words in appropriate order”. The phrase had achieved this, according to Mr Buckroyd.

The chief examiner, who is responsible for standards in exams taken by 780,000 candidates and for training for 3,000 examiners, told The Times: “It would be wicked to give it zero, because it does show some very basic skills we are looking for – like conveying some meaning and some spelling.

“It’s better than someone that doesn’t write anything at all. It shows more skills than somebody who leaves the page blank.”

Well, if any of my dear students read this: Please, do not expect any marks for using expletives in one of the tests set by me, ever. ;-)

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