Proofs Your T.A. Never Showed You

by Pat Curtin, U of Ottawa Electrical

For too long professors have been leading students astray by attempting to prove theorems to their classes. Through analytical and graphical techniques, obscure technical manipulations and multiple buzzwords, they go through the motions of deriving expressions. The resultant lack of legible and audible information inevitably drives students crazy. With experience, students become so sensitive to these pieces of academic hell that as soon as "sensors detect incoming proofs", writing materials are dropped and people start sawing logs. Here's your chance to fight back.....

Proof by Magic:

The most popular university level proof, this method involves large doses of vigorous hand waving and incoherent muttering. Numbers seem to pop in and out of nowhere for no apparent reason. It is usually accompanied by puffs of smoke and has been known to make use of mirrors. Hits is the methods of choice for Calculus profs of Germanic heritage.

Proof by Assumption:

The simplest of all proofs, wherein an answer is stated and assumed to be correct.
tanh(ln(arccos (x!))) dy dx = 1
Unfortunately, some profs, find this to be unacceptable. For these fascists a variation known as Proof of Infinite Assumption may come in handy. It is the same as above, except that you assume the answer to be "a" where "a" lies somewhere between negative infinity and infinity, you're just no quite sure of its exact location.

Proof by Blunt Instrument:

A real crowd pleaser, this risky but useful method calls your professor's future health into question. In less important situations a watered down version known as Proof by Violent Desk Pounding may be employed.

Run-on Proof:

If you have some knowledge of the question's subject matter, but absolutely no idea of how to solve it, spill everything you know onto the paper, including totally irrelevant bits of information such as last night's hockey score, favorite recipes, etc. Good for part mark.

Proof by an Undetermined Sum of Money:

Affix a blank signed cheque to the exam. This is the easiest way to earn your prof's respect.

Proof by Mindboggling Notation:

Used to best effect with at least five alphabets and special symbols.

Proof by Skillful Manipulation of the English Language (also known as the "See if he'll fall for this one" Proof):

"it can be shown that...." or "clearly..." or "this question is left as an exercise to the reader"

Proof by Association:

"I saw Ashwin do that once".

Proof by Good Eyesight:

Otherwise known as cheating.

Proof by Corrupt Math:

Simplify the problem by making use of some trick, albeit mathematically illegal one. e.g., x/0=0, 1=2.

Proof by Textbook:

This beast is rarely found on exams but can be useful for labs, especially those in which your experimental error exceeds 30000%.

Proof by Logic:

You answer looked right, it fells right, so dammit, its got to be right. You just lack the details to show it. Quote Spock extensively.

Proof by 80 Proof:

Consuming beverages containing 40% alcohol isn't the most effective procedure, but LCBO sanctioned products can be loads of fun anyways. Even if the exam smokes you, who'll remember.

Proof by B&E:

If you don't want to bother studying, liberate a copy of the exam from your prof's office. The fact that you'll have to break and enter does technically make this a criminal offense, but what he's been doing to you during the course is also illegal.

Proof by Brownnosing:

Sucking up has been used successfully for ages, so there's no reason why anyone lacking pride and self-esteem shouldn't try it. Visit the prof's office frequently, bearing gist such as apples, assorted canned goods, and BNR pocket protectors. Compliment his tasteful brown, yellow and green polyester sports jacket. Ask dumb questions so he'll feel smart.

Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt:

What the jury will have to be shown in order to convict you of 3 to 16.

Proof by Minimum Time Expenditure:

Admit that the question is way over your head and write down some criticism like "I don't know" or "you're asking me?" A work of warning, though. Don't do this too often or you'll be rolling your marks home.

Water Proof:

Plead for your professor's mercy, explaining that you couldn't study because your parents are suffering from bizarre diseases, forcing you to put in an 80 hour week down in the mines so you could keep your sister in hairdressing school. If this works, beg for money.
(reprinted from the OralOtis, February 1989).

Page written by Matthew Darwin <>
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