Here’s a pyramid for you, and a pyramid for you, and a pyramid for you, and…

The easiest sort of question to write is a multiple choice question for which there is a single obviously correct answer, accompanied by some patently incorrect answers. An exam comprised of such questions is a piece of cake to write and a breeze to mark but often an inaccurate measure of a student’s grasp of the material being tested and dreadfully dull for testees and testers alike.

At Accella, we’ve always tried a little harder than everyone else and, in recent years, we’ve been upping our game further. Last weekend, for example, the classes in which we’d begun reading From Mud Huts to Skyscrapers were quizzed on the first reading from that book, which included a spread on the pyramids near Giza, in Egypt.

For one of the reading comprehension questions on the quiz, each young person received a paper pyramid, which they were asked to position on their quiz paper so that it was oriented with respect to the cardinal directions in the same way that the pyramids at Giza are aligned. A compass rose and a series of parallel dashed lines running north-south were also printed on every paper. Once a student was happy with their pyramid’s placement, they were to trace its square base with their pencil or pen and it was the orientation of this square that we marked.

What made our students’ answers to this question particularly interesting to us is that the passage in From Mud Huts to Skyscrapers in which the pyramids’ alignment is discussed (The corners are aligned exactly with the four cardinal directions — north, south, east, and west.) can be reasonably interpreted in either of two possible ways.

A reader might assume that the pyramids’ sides were parallel to the cardinal directions (i.e. one corner of each structure pointing north, one pointing east, and so on) or that the structures’ sides were perpendicular to the cardinal directions. We marked both answers correct but were especially pleased with those papers on which the latter alignment, which happens to be correct, was shown.

To arrive at the real-world right answer with confidence, a student had to have put in a few extra minutes of effort and researched the pyramids’ actual orientation. Good work!