Sunday 18 October 2009

Rational stereotyping, grading, and separating equilibria

Scott Beaulier notes the correlation between legible scripts and quality of written answer and puzzles as to the reason for it.

There is, of course, a simple explanation. If you are pretty sure you have the right answer, you have a strong incentive to make sure the guy grading it knows what you're saying. If you're pretty sure that you have no clue, you have a strong incentive to make sure the guy grading it has no clue what you're saying so you can pray for part marks from grader exasperation with trying to puzzle out the content.

Same in papers you might be refereeing. Obscurantism for the sake of obscurantism, or hiding the lack of a plausible mechanism in a mess of math, serves the same function.


  1. I don't think that's quite right. Some of the brightest people I know have some of the worst handwriting I've ever seen. And I doubt the extra pressure of being in an exam somehow improves their handwriting.

    Personally, I never pay much attention (at least not conscious attention) to how legible my handwriting is during an exam; I'm only interested in getting everything down in time. I'm not a neat handwriter and yet I do pretty well on exams.

    Moreover, I can never read the comments written by lecturers on my returned essays. If the incentives you suggest really do exist, I at least want to believe that they are interested in giving out useful (and thus legible) advice...

  2. Well, the lecturers have weaker incentives of course -- grades vs course evals.

    I wouldn't say the R2 is all that strong on this one either. It does seem to be there though.