, Volume 115, Issue 3, pp 355-373

To Give a Surprise Exam, Use Game Theory

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Abstract

This paper proposes a game-theoretic solution of the surprise examination problem. It is argued that the game of “matching pennies” provides a useful model for the interaction of a teacher who wants her exam to be surprising and students who want to avoid being surprised. A distinction is drawn between prudential and evidential versions of the problem. In both, the teacher should not assign a probability of zero to giving the exam on the last day. This representation of the problem provides a diagnosis of where the backwards induction argument, which “proves” that no surprise exam is possible, is mistaken.

This revised version was published online in June 2006 with corrections to the Cover Date.