Teachers Share The Worst Papers They've Ever Graded


Is there a grade worse than F?

One of the biggest responsibilities of a teacher is the act of helping students learn from their mistakes. You artfully direct their attention to their errors, instructing them what they can do to fix the mistake, and hope the information is retained long after the lesson. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but you always treat each misstep with grace and the hopes of a learning opportunity. However, there are times when what the students have produced is too good to let slide.

Reddit user, u/JohnnyXDukey, wanted to know about those times when what the teachers had to grade were just too much:

English teachers and professors of reddit: What non-plagiarized paper was the worst paper you ever graded?




We'd just spent two weeks on WWII and the kids were supposed to write a summary essay on the major events. This kid genuinely believed that WWII lasted two days; The Germans bombed Pearl Harbor, and the next day America nuked Tokyo.


Don't You Know What The Answer Is?


I teach chemistry, not English, but they write one big paper as a write up after a long lab.

Anyway, I had this one student, let's call him Joe, who was a pain in my butt. Constantly late, disrespectful to his classmates and me, often just ditched, so he was waaaaay behind. Anytime I'd call on him during class his answer would be "HYDROGEN!" We could be talking about molecular structure, I'd call on Joe to tell me how a transition metal like iron was [structurally] different from a halogen, and still that's what he'd shout.

Fast forward to the end of the year and the long lab write up. All the kids, including Joe, have done the lab. I give rubrics, clear guidelines on what I expect them to discuss, and a deadline. Deadline comes and they're all submitted through Google classroom, I start reading. I'd made it through about 10 of them, and [they're] okay. The kids gave it a decent shot.

Then I get to Joe's essay. He'd literally typed the sentence "The answer is always Hydrogen." Hundreds of times. Enough to reach the page length requirement. And he'd done it with the correct headers for each section, too. I was impressed with the amount of effort that had been put into screwing his grade away.


But, A Solid D.


My parents graded GCSE papers every summer. One year my mum got an English essay exam on which the kid had written "I don't understand the question so I'm going to write you a poem", followed by said poem and an elaborate drawing of a tropical island.

He got a D.


Better Question: How Did You Know That?


I once was in an English class with several papers that had to be peer-reviewed. One of my classmates wrote a 15 page paper that was, for the most part, barely comprehensible. But the real kicker was that she directly quoted Santa Clause 2. In a final paper for a college-level senior capstone, a real person quoted the 2002 Tim Allen Christmas comedy, Santa Clause 2.

We also had to discuss each other papers in class afterward. Awkward.


Why Let The First One Go?

I was observing a class at a highschool (one for very low standards and many, many problems) and the teacher I was observing told me about how one student on his state exam (4th grade) wrote 90% of his essay in emojis.

He did not pass


Bear? Bare. Bare?


I had a student who wrote about the right to "bare" arms. For some of the paper he was talking about concealed carry laws and was for it. Then he started arguing against the second amendment. Then he started talking about women wearing short sleeved shirts.

This was a college level class.

I still have photos of this paper, though I've lost the original copy. It is glorious. I read it to all new friends.


You Gotta Keep Them Separated

My brother was grading papers for an astronomy class he took last year, when he came across a paper in which somebody quoted the bible's creation story, thinking it was an adequate explanation of how the universe came to be.


Haunted Goats


English teacher. Read and discussed ghost stories with class- what makes them spooky, how they are structured, building up tension, key elements etc. They set off writing their own. ghost story supposedly using everything we had been studying. When I marked them one boy had written a 'goat story'. Seriously!


Stay Off Topic


I was in a master's program for the last two years, and I had to peer review a classmate's paper. Holy sh-t.

We were supposed to write a persuasive research essay on an effective way to make college more affordable. I was lucky enough to peer review a classmate and coworker, who already possessed not one, but TWO master's degrees, and he was somehow on his way to a doctorate. I'm honestly still perplexed trying to figure out how he got those other two degrees.

Anyways, the paper was littered with grammatical errors. My favorite of those was when he started making up words, and talked about the problem of student indebtness. He probably meant indebtedness, but he used it incorrectly multiple times, so make what you will of that.

He also referred to the student debt problem as an extra layer on students' frustration cake. Yum.

This person was a veteran, and at one point in the paper, he talks about the terrorist attacks of 9/11/11. I understand that that's a single-number typo, but also, if you're going to state that as your reason for joining the military, at least proofread it like you care about what happened that day.

The good part, however, was his actual argument. For some reason he was arguing that college should be more affordable, but only for veterans (you mean the GI Bill?). He said that we could make this happen by simply cutting the salaries of professors, and giving that money back to the students.

We're going to save colleges and universities in America by failing to pay our professors, everyone.


That'll Do It

Definitely not the worst, but my favourite was a student who wrote in an essay on the First World War that soldiers could be put out of action by being shot in the "head, neck or pancreas"


"-Onomy," Not "-Ology"


Geography teacher here, I teach 18 year olds. I had assigned a scientific paper of about 5 pages long. Topic was chosen from among the chapter on space. Had a student write it on the subject of the moon. Went of on the good start: different theories of how the moon came into existence. Then suddenly she switched into astrology. It was so smooth I didn't notice until a full paragraph in.

I had to explain her why she failed...




One of my classmates once wrote and presented on this wacky jumble of conspiracy theories about the Illuminati. The paper was bad but the presentation was awkward as f-ck, he was doing numerology on the chalk board to demonstrate that the Pope was actually the Antichrist and that George Bush was one of his minions.

It would have been funny, but I'm pretty sure he was schizophrenic. Everyone just got really, really quiet, including the professor.


Pick Your Topic Carefully

Not English, but Politics. I'm a PhD student, and I also teach and mark undergraduate essays and exams.

I get quite a few essays that are just poor quality (things like poor argumentation, lack of critical insight etc), but this is often because the student struggles with understanding concepts and just needs a helping hand. Some clearly just don't put any effort in, but they are usually in a very small minority.

One of the few essays that really stands out, and the one that I gave my lowest ever mark to, was less an essay and more a diatribe against immigration. I'm not going to mark someone down because I don't agree with what they write - I don't really care as long as it's well-argued, factually correct and follows the principles of academic writing, citations, and argumentation.

This one crossed the line in two respects. Firstly, it was egregiously racist. The student effectively stated that 'all Pakistanis are child abusers and women-beaters', amongst other things (although apparently Indians were ok because they were 'civilised by the british'). Secondly, it just wasn't an academic essay. The argument was just so, so bad. And they didn't reference any peer-reviewed sources. Their reference list was a list of URLs to sites like the Daily Mail and Infowars.

Needless to say, I failed it and sent it to the head of department who went to have a chat with the student. I don't like failing students, but this one definitely deserved it.


They're More Like Guidelines Than Rules


I once marked an essay that was meant to discuss code (as in HTML). The student wrote about the 'Pirate's Code' from '[Pirates] of the Caribbean'...


Sports = Reading?


I asked my students to write a literacy narrative (literally a narrative about their experiences with reading, writing, or language). Instead someone wrote about winning their high school basketball championship game.


They're Called "Homophones"


English 1302 (had to pass 1301 to take this) college class. It was a Literature and Composition class, so each unit entailed a written exam as well as a short essay on one of the texts we'd read together. We discussed each piece in depth, and students chose which of the texts they wanted in their unit exam as a class.

I'm saying this to illustrate that I'd set up the class to be as user-friendly as possible because this was a basic-level course, and I fully acknowledge others don't love the English language as much as I do. However, if tried to pick texts I thought students could connect to and divided the units chronologically so it would be easier to identify relatable cultural elements (again, that we had discussed at length).

In the final exam, this native English speaker wrote his whole essay on how strange and perverted it was that Andrew Marvell wrote his poem, "To His Coy Mistress", about his love affair with a fish. This poem was from our first unit. He spent all semester thinking 1) coy = koi, 2) this poet was a raging deviant, 3) the "carpe" in "carpe diem" was yet another fish, 4) I must have some bizarre affinity for fish to present this as legitimate literature in a college class.

He'd not come to any of the peer editing sessions, obviously. I was glad I didn't have to give his paper back to him (turned in on the last day). It would have been being the scope of my tact to refrain from singing "Gay Fish".


The Complete History Of India

Looks like I'm a bit late to the party, but I'll drop this here anyway.

Sophomore year of high school, my debate coach also ran a Freshman geography course, and I graded some papers for him. This kid wrote an essay that's perhaps the best thing I've ever seen. This was supposed to be a brief overview of the history of India.

I'm copying it here, exactly as it was written. Yes, I have proof that this was a real essay.

  • The history of India is long tale of Hardship money, and betrayal because What good story doesn't have betrayal :) Well here's the story... Back in the day when people didn't have. Wifi, Data, cable or Obama. In the eastern regions there was a place called india. People there lived in the dry desert heat with the sun on their backs Constantly. And to deal with this Climate, they talked to there leader, (dog face, human body) and the creature said bark bark bark which translates into "I'll svmmon my friends to help us build some shelter"... 5 days later a huge flying saucer landed and the aliens got out and helped the humans build... in 10 years they built a lot of pyrimids... After they were done, the aliens asked the leader "SO, where is that money oyu said you would give us" and the dog faced leadersaid, "yeah.. about that, I lied.." and in outrage the aliens abducted half the people and took the people on there speaceship and Probed them.. tho peoples were tramaticed and told everyone that aliens were bad, and thats why today people still think aliens are EVIL but truth be told they were cheated on their deal and They were angry... and thats the story of india.

Ancient. Roman. Tank. Races.


Oh goody, one where I can answer.

So I teach ESL to Japanese children in America. Fun job, good hours, and the kids are usually pretty great. But all of them at some point get stressed out and decide using Google Translate is easier than writing a paper.

It's fairly obvious when they use Google Translate, as the sentence structure will be off, or the paper just won't make any sense.

Which leads me to my favorite worst paper ever written, The Ancient Roman Olympics. You could tell that the student wrote it themselves, and then used Translate for the English. So why is it my favorite? Because of one line: "Ancient Roman tank races must have been intense."

The word he meant was chariot. But the kanji for chariot is the same for tank. You use context to know which meaning to give the kanji. I now have a running joke with this student about tanks races.

TL:DR; Ancient Roman Tank races.




There was a girl who wrote about how the English language was only partially [accessible] to women. Not like that men had dominated the English [language] in terms of publishing or less censorship, but as in there are words and phrases that are 100% incomprehensible to women because of genetic differences between men and women...


"Is Teacher Bias?"


This, truly, is my time.

I was a teacher in a high school. I taught some lower achieving kids in an English class. They were around 14-16 years old. One kid, Paul, was particularly bad - not through a lack of intelligence, but effort. Paul is also a native English speaker. This is important to remember.

Paul did not submit his persuasive essay when it was due, and continued to fail to submit it for another month and a half. I kept reminding him, phoning home, emailing other staff, etc. Paul - who was the only pupil who did not submit his essay - believed I was picking on him and singling him out.

Finally, in what I can only imagine in a fit of sudden inspiration linked to this belief, I received the following unceremoniously submitted 400 word masterpiece:

'Is teacher bias? Perhap'

Yes. Perhap.

It was also all typed in a funky, bold, jagged font.

Here is a brief summary/ extract:

'Is teacher bias? Perhap. In my experience teacher is very bias towards me for no reason'

It went on about what he understood to be the faults in the teaching profession for most of it, however another particular highlight was where he stated 'teachers can be racist, as reports have found'. He proceeded to never reference this or go into detail about racism/ reports ever again. Paul was also white, just putting that out there.

I still f-cking have that essay.


H/T: Reddit

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