The Annoying Test Question

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Back in the way back, I, like everyone else, had to take a lot of standardized tests in school. Actually, 99th-percentile me tended to take more than most (I’d get called out of class to take extras…ugh).

There often seemed to be one sort of question that really bugged me, though I answered them correctly (apparently). It would go something like this:

Which one of the choices does not belong with the others?
(There is only one right answer):

  1. Lime
  2. Plum
  3. Lemon
  4. Grape


Augh! I hate these questions. Mostly because I can usually find more than one “right answer”. Off the top of my head, here I found nine obvious paths to the answer:

  1. Grape, because it doesn’t come from a tree.
  2. Plum, because it isn’t commonly juiced
  3. Plum, because it’s the only one that’s always purple (grapes also come in green)
  4. Lemon, because it’s more than one syllable
  5. Plum, because it only has one (not two) vowels
  6. Lime, because it only has two (not three) consonants
  7. Grape, because it doesn’t have an “L”
  8. Grape, because it doesn’t have an “M”
  9. Plum, because it doesn’t have an “E”

And those are the easy ones. I’m sure if I dug, I’d find several more. So, I’d eliminate Lime and Lemon because they came up the least in my list, and then take a stab at either Plum or Grape. (I’d probably choose Grape, because of the tree thing.)

The point is, this is how I read a lot of the questions. I’d almost always have more than one choice, even after winnowing down, that were more dependent on the questioner’s expectations/assumptions than the question asked.

Maybe it’s just a function of how my brain works. For example, as frustrating as tracking down bugs in a non-trivial computer program can be, it was something I kind of enjoyed doing. To do this, you have to try to figure out every possible avenue that could have had an effect in making the code a steaming pile of bits — even if it’s spectacularly abstruse. Truth be told, the more recondite, the more fun it was to find it.

I’m just glad I don’t have to take these tests anymore. Or, more accurately, I’m glad I don’t have to endure these kinds of questions anymore…unless I’m around humans, but that’s a whole ‘nother challenge.

Photo: composited Test form CC By SA from

* The photo harkens back to one of my last classes in college. I took the class pass/fail and I either had enough accumulated points to pass, or I needed one more. Hedging my bets, I went to the final and asked the TA if every letter on the test was the correct answer at least once. She said it was. So…I answered all the questions “B”. I finished the 2-hour test in under 5 minutes — stunning everyone. That was fun.

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