Driven to Distractors

December 16, 2007
Posted by Jay Livingston
My final exam will have some multiple-choice questions. I write my own, and it’s sometime hard to come up with good wrong choices, or “distractors” as people in the test-making biz call them. I always try to have at least a couple of questions with one amusing distractor. For example,
A janitor makes $8 an hour; Barry Bonds makes tens of millions a year playing baseball. Why might Marx classify both men as members of the same social class?
a. They are both in occupations that have uncertain career paths.
b. They are both in occupations that do not require extensive education.
c. They are both selling their labor to someone who owns the means of production.
d. They are both in occupations that have many minorities.
e. They are both in occupations that don’t have very good tests for steroids.
It's the last choice that's supposed to elicit a small smile, though I prefer a distractor that's truly silly.
In Durkheim’s view, the god or gods that a society worshiped were a representation of
a. The society itself
b. The unknowable
c. An authoritarian father
d. Chuck Berry
I stole that one from an old Monty Python page (The Hackenthorpe Book of Lies), and maybe Chuck Berry isn’t le distractor juste for students born in 1986. I’m open to suggestions for better distractors . . . and better questions.

The risk, of course, is that the distractor you thought was so ludicrous it would get a chuckle – usually at least one student chooses it. Wait, maybe that’s it – instead of Chuck Berry, Ludacris.


kristina b said...

Paris Hilton!

Phil said...

To elucidate the complexities of Marx's conception of class, I used to get my students to chew on the class position of David Beckham. Depressingly, but predictably they started to show an interest then ...