An exam rant at RYS says:

I swear I could give you all the questions in advance, and that a third of you would find a way to fail anyway.

I was a TA for a course once. The exam had two essay questions. Students had to do one. They had received both questions in advance, and knew they would be able to choose one of the two. There were two questions—one was quite difficult, so 95% of the students prepared the other question.

Despite sincere, detailed, and copious preparation by the students, every single essay I read was atrocious. The question asked “how did foreign wars result in reform at home?” The ideal answer incorporated the six biggest events covered. The cause-and-effect relationship among these events had been a repeated theme of the lectures and course, although admittedly, the professor was not the best lecturer.

Nevertheless, students saw “wars” and gave me battlefield accounts that tracked troop movements, listed number of dead, and otherwise completely shunned the actual question. Even one of my good students, whose exam I had delayed grading to give me hope, blew it, although he did at least mention one example of domestic reform (of the three covered in class).

It was clear that these students had invested great amounts of energy in memorizing the wrong information.