Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Monday, April 19, 1999 Published at 14:03 GMT 15:03 UK

Education: Features

GCSE howlers

One pupil wrote: "Socrates died of an overdose of wedlock"

The writings of schoolchildren are a rich source of unintended hilarity, with exam papers providing some of the best examples.

An e-mail currently circulating around the in-boxes of office workers in the UK appears to show that this proud tradition is alive and well.

The message is believed to have been compiled by examiners who have marked recent GCSE exam papers - sat by most 15 and 16-year-olds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It reports that in the heat of an exam, one candidate wrote that "ancient Egypt was inhabited by mummies and they all wrote in hydraulics".

Another asserted that Socrates died from an "overdose of wedlock" and that "after his death, his career suffered a dramatic decline", while Sir Francis Drake is said to have "circumcised the world with a 100 foot clipper".

Solomon's porcupines

Bible scholars abound. "Moses led the Hebrew slaves to the Red Sea, where they made unleavened bread which is bread made without any ingredients" and "Solomon had three hundred wives and seven hundred porcupines" rate among the best.

Romans, one candidate wrote, were so called "because they never stayed in one place for very long", while Julius Caesar is said to have "extinguished himself on the battlefields of Gaul".

Closer to home, the Magna Carta is said to have protected subjects of the Crown from being "hanged twice for the same offence", while another historian noted sagely that "in midevil times most people were alliterate".

One candidate displayed the extent of his scientific knowledge thus: "Louis Pasteur discovered a cure for rabbis. Charles Darwin was a naturalist who wrote the Organ of the Species. Madman Curie discovered radio."

American history

But it is in the field of American history that many candidates surpassed themselves.

Writing about the Pilgrims' first winter in America, one wrote:"The winter of 1620 was a hard one for the settlers. Many people died and many babies were born. Captain John Smith was responsible for all this."

Later, the colonists started the Revolutionary War because "the English put tacks in their tea". The story concludes when "the colonists won the war and no longer had to pay for taxis".

Under the new constitution of the United States, a candidate wrote, "people enjoyed the right to keep bare arms".

Lincoln and Napoleon

Following the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln is said to have freed the slaves by signing the "Emasculation Proclamation" but was later "shot in his seat by one of the actors in a moving picture show. The believed assinator was John Wilkes Booth, a supposedly insane actor. This ruined Booth's career."

Back in the Old World, one history candidate explained the dilemma of a famous French leader by stating: "Napoleon wanted an heir to inherit his power, but since Josephine was a baroness, she couldn't have any children."

And finally, possibly to the strains of Land of Hope and Glory, consider the following offering from a history paper:

"The sun never set on the British Empire because the British Empire is in the East and the sun sets in the West."

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Features Contents

Mike Baker

Relevant Stories

28 Aug 98 | Whiteboard
Dear examiner

In this section

Setting research papers free

Numeracy strategy survival tips

What adults are supposed to know