As all college students are well aware, professors know when their students’ papers are full of crap. Try as they might, many students turn in assignments full of BS and then expect their professor to believe they were genuinely trying to answer the question to the best of their ability.
Dr. Bryan Williams of the Political Science department gave the best definition of bullshit in student assignments. “In general, lots of prepositional clauses and adjectives/adverbs mean they’re bullshitting. If they legitimately have something to say, they’ll say it without caveat or modification,” he said.
This is a great rule of thumb. When pages and word counts are up for debate, students are easily tempted to include prepositional phrases galore.
Dr. David A. Davis, English and Southern Studies professor, has seen that as well an overuse of other key terms. “I had a student at another university who filled his work with stock phrases such as ‘Due to the fact that,’ ‘As we all know,’ and ‘It is understood that.’ They made his work stultifying, so I began to highlight them in brown and mark them ‘BS.’ His paper looked like a cow pasture,” he said.
He was not the only one who felt like this. Journalism professor Jay Black said, “When I get a paper that is just full of crap, I just draw some cartoon vomit on the page. If it is really and truly horrible, then I draw a big, stinky cow patty. I haven’t had to do one this semester fortunately.”
Black also has a series of stamps to use on papers that just call students out. However, he did say that most professors will not be likely to give out secrets or anything about how they know when a student is just bullshitting.
Black felt that there was a balance that took into account the student’s overall participation in the class, and how much they could get away with. This relates back to excuses and how much the student could pull off.
Dr. Brian Rood said, “Years ago, I had a student whose grandmother died at least three times in two semesters and had to miss exams because they had to be with family out of state. However, I would see the student out bouncing across campus that day or the following day. I never said anything about it, but hoped that they used the extra time to study for the ‘make-up’ exam.” Rood was more astounded than anything, and this was the same way that Professor Black felt.
In essence, most professors know when someone is pulling their leg, but the trend is that if they are not lying about things, then why punish? Dr. Williams admitted that he almost gave credit to a student in a reading quiz who didn’t blatantly get the question wrong but simply wrote “I didn’t read.” Most of the class guessed and put incorrect, educated guesses, but it proved they did not do their work. Until students change the way they BS papers, professors are going to continue to know.