Article

Synthese

, Volume 115, Issue 3, pp 355-373

To Give a Surprise Exam, Use Game Theory

  • ELLIOTT SOBER

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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.