Breaking a finger to get out of an exam

Posted on by TheLastPsychiatrist and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

he forgot there was a midterm today. i watched him break his own finger to
get out of it.
(Texts From Last Night)

Why would anyone do that?

Whatever course he was taking, it wasn’t worth breaking his finger over. I don’t mean his finger is valuable, I mean that he wouldn’t have done this over an important class.

Students operate with a huge gap between how important they think the class/material is, and how important they think the grade is. That weird thinking is explained by GPA– all grades get equal weight, so it really matters that they do well even in courses they do not think are valuable.

And students will argue most vociferously for a higher grade in those courses
that they don’t value– just as they don’t see particular value in the course,
the grade itself is also lacking in integrity or objective meaning. It can, and
should, be changed as needed.

So breaking the finger comes out of a certain kind of desperation. He’s only breaking it to get out of something that’s not worth the effort. It’s a paradoxical logic: the course is stupid, I don’t care about the material, but it’s too stupid not to get an A in. I just need a little more time to study.

But it won’t really help. No amount of delaying will get him a substantially
better grade. It’s a hail mary pass, and you only throw hail mary passes when you’re losing.

But, importantly, the maneuver is reliable, even if you get caught. “If this kid broke his finger to get out of an exam, there’s got to be something wrong with him. He probably needs a little more time to prepare for the test.” 

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5 Responses to Breaking a finger to get out of an exam

  1. Vigil says:

    I know someone who did this same thing. If only he’d applied his hardcore will-to-do-whatever-it-takes to things that actually matter; ten years later he lives an unhappy and unsatisfying life working barely above minimum wage, and can’t be bothered to change it. That’s what happens when we teach kids that grades are more important than quality of life (so stop playing around and do your homework).

  2. Sal Paradise says:

    I think part of the charm is in the act: one simple bout of physical exertion, some general pain afterward and you’ve achieved the desired outcome–putting the exam on YOUR terms, which means you can study for it and ace it, no problem. The fact that it seemed to be the only way out is what I find most intriguing–a hint of the narcissist believing his own world of lies, maybe?

  3. AdamSaleh1987 says:

    I disagree about how all grades weigh the same, if he was a pre-med student, his science grades matter more. That being said, Sal is right. This is putting the ball in his/her court. Although the play will not favor him in the long run.

  4. pyrotix says:

    Everyone here is making comments assuming that the grade is the most important thing.

    If the guy cares that much about grades wouldn’t he know when he had midterms?

    Breaking the finger is probably just as much about making an effect on his peer group. He doesn’t care to study, but how does he show people he cares about school? That he’s a passionate and dedicated individual instead of just a slacker?

  5. ripterriers says:


    Why does it have to be that complicated? He can’t just be a fuck up? I know I’ve definitely considered options that extreme for classes, I’ve always just had the “ADD” card to play that has gotten me out of it so I didn’t have to. I very much doubt his thoughts were “oh man, how do I prove to my friends that I care about school? Better break my finger!” His friends don’t give a fuck, they don’t care about school either. What they all care about, however, is the grade. I’d say it’s a safe bet the guy that breaks his finger to get extra time on an exam is probably not paying his way through school, and so the parents need to see good grades if he wants to continue drinking and partying his ass off – I mean sorry, stay in college.