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Exam scripts & essays where the author seems to be under the influence?

(7 Posts)
SomePig Sat 20-May-17 00:15:09

Marking essays and exams, I find that every so often I come across the strangest scripts (in a humanities subject where students are used to writing long discursive prose). They are clearly written by a student who knows a lot about the topic, and who definitely has good analytical skills, but they are a really weird combination of rambling/bombastic/unsustainable or irrelevant generalisations that veer way off the question into rhetorical assertions, that then segue incoherently into other similarly sweeping generalisations. They're quite heart-breaking to read as they can only get a very low mark: you can't follow the argument or the train of thought for more than a few sentences before the text launches off in another direction, and they rarely answer the question.

Has anyone ever come across something similar while marking? This is pure speculation on my part, but I have begun to wonder whether these are essays written under the influence of some kind of study drug / attention deficit disorder medication. I know from mass media reports that students take these to (apparently) give themselves an advantage, but I was too much of a goody-two-shoes and barely had money for bus fare let alone drugs when a student myself to have ever taken anything similar, so I've no idea really what they do. From what I hear, they make you feel a lot sharper, but that would seem to be about perception rather than a sharp jump in analytical or writing ability, wouldn't it? Reading the scripts I am reminded of listening to someone who is talking after having taken some kind of mind-altering substance, and who is clearly convinced of their own lucidity and the profundity of their own insights. But if you're listening to them and you're not on the same substance, it's clear that they are not saying anything particularly profound.

Anyway, just curious whether anyone has met a similar thing while marking, or has perhaps even taken some of these drugs & then come back in the cold light of day to read over work they've written under the influence of them, and recognises any of the features in my description? I'd really like to warn my dissertation students away from whatever it is that's causing otherwise competent people to write such incoherent prose.

tatohead Sat 20-May-17 10:31:46

I come across arrogant students who are generally intelligent but refuse to believe that their opinion isn't as valid as a century of peer reviewed empirical evidence. So they end up making wild assertions and their argument is articulate but actually just wrong. I don't think that's drugs, I think it's just ego, with a touch of sexism (what could I possibly know as a female lecturer hmm)

Foureyesarebetterthantwo Mon 22-May-17 20:15:04

I don't come across this a huge amount in social science subjects, more students who heard the advice to 'be original and advance a strong argument' as a way to get a first and miss out the bit where they critically appraise the evidence first, making it look one-sided and ranty.

I hadn't considered whether students were on performance enhancing drugs, I guess some must be. So might some lecturers, come to that.

JohnnyMcGrathSaysFuckOff Tue 23-May-17 09:49:24

Yes, I had a very bright student who used to take a combination of presription painkillers and, I think, street drugs. Once turned up at my office on a Sunday holding a tube of paint and wanting to talk about poetry. Their essays were interesting!

Foureyesarebetterthantwo Tue 23-May-17 09:51:53

I had a PhD student who (I guessed) smoked a lot of weed and has stopped, and her career has come on in leaps and bounds since then! I felt at the time something was holding her back, motivation-wise and it's all a lot better now.

SomePig Tue 23-May-17 10:40:58

> they end up making wild assertions and their argument is articulate but actually just wrong

I'm very familiar with this genre of essay as well, but what I'm talking about is a different thing. It's more making out that connections exist when they really don't, and jumping from point to point to point in rapid succession in a way that seems really at odds with the analytical acuity that I can see glimpses of.

Lissette Tue 23-May-17 10:50:08

This reminds me of dmil who studied English literature in the 1960s (she's now a retired academic). After handing in an essay, her tutor pulled her aside and asked her what she was taking. She didn't do drugs at all and when she said this, her bemused tutor told her never to start taking anything! She is still fairly wacky!

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