Kenya, Teaching

The Ultimate Question

I have been teaching two classes to students this semester: Introduction to Programming and Algorithms and Network Essentials. So I’ve spent the past eight or nine weeks lecturing, giving assignments, and issuing CATs. I just gave the third CAT to my programming students and I thought it was pretty fair, but I was surprised at the results. Every student got this question completely wrong:

int main()
int salary = 15000;

if( salary > 15000 )
cout << "You have a nice job!" << endl; } else { cout << "You need a new job!" << endl; } }

Asked what this small program would print when executed, they all answered “3.” I wrote this question to test understanding of two concepts: the conditional if/else structure and the “>” operator. I figured that even if the students didn’t understand the programming syntax, logic alone would guide them. After all, “greater-than” is a concept in plenty of other disciplines besides computer science.

It’s not like I haven’t been teaching them! We have definitely talked about both of these concepts in class, and I even had them try similar examples in the computer lab over the course of the semester.

Maybe it’s not supposed to make sense, like the people who built a machine to calculate the purpose of life, the universe, and everything in Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy; the machine spent millions of years calculating, only to spit out “42.” Maybe “3” is the right answer and I’m just not asking the right question, haha.


  1. Erdost

    Alan, now I am really curious how they got their answer 3! I would like to hear some explication about it. Either they know something we don’t or someone came with the answer 3 and others just cheated :)

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