Letter: Don't blame the students

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The Independent Online
I SUSPECT that Marie Woolf's article ``Compared with the Sixties, the undergraduates of today are educationally challenged'' (27 November) isn't comparing like with like in its lists of old and new University Challenge questions. There are three reasons why the typical team of 1994 scores fewer points than its counterpart of a dozen years ago.

First, the questions of the current series are so poorly worded or ill-researched that they are misleading. The answer on the card isn't the only one possible - as, for example, when the Open University were told a tense they called ``past perfect'' is the ``pluperfect'', though the former is preferred.

Second, subtracting penalty points rather than adding them to the opposing team's score must knock at least 60 points off what would have been the teams' combined total before.

Third, the weekly summary of the rules, leisurely team introductions, and time-wasting new practices of announcing the subject of bonuses and telling the scores almost every time one of them changes reduce the playing time by a good 100 points' worth. So blame the producer or the chairman, Jeremy Paxman, but lay off the contestants.

A R Frith

(1982 St Andrews team)