My question is about this clip of Jimmy Kimmel Live. At 0:23, Tom Holland says:

You know, you know when you revise for an exam and you feel like you crushed it, but the longer you wait for the results, the more you think you kind of...ruined it.

And Robert Downey Jr. interrupts:

He's British, by the way. He means a test or a...

And Tom corrects:

A test or something.

To which Jimmy says:

Thank God you brought your translator.

And Tom agrees:

Exactly, yeah.

Moreover, at 1:16, Robert even made a joke about "exam" being British English in this sense, when he said:

And so they brought in all the finalists for the exam.

Now, I'm thinking, wait a minute. Don't Americans use the term "exam" (or examination) as a "test to show a person's progress, knowledge, or ability" as in "final exam"?

If so, where did they (Robert and Jimmy) get this idea that "exam" in this sense is British English, and that you should use "test" in American English?

  • 2
    While it might be true that the British use "exam" more than "test" and Americans use "test" more than "exam," what you actually have is someone (Downey) who is trying to steal the spotlight with a bit of comedy. Whether or not one culture uses the words differently than another is actually irrelevant --- and I would never recommend consulting Mr. Downey for English grammar usage (no offense intended, he's a great actor).
    – JBH
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 6:49
  • 9
    Downey would have done better to translate 'revise', which to the best of my knowledge is never used in AmE in the sense 'review'. Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 10:30
  • 3
    There likely is a joke in there, as "revise" is not typically used in that sense in the US. It would "study" or "review". "Exam" and "test" are pretty much interchangeable, with the former being a hair more formal, and perhaps implying something that is longer and more comprehensive.;
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 12:10
  • 1
    @StoneyB I agree. But oddly enough, no one talks about "revise".
    – listeneva
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 12:16
  • 1
    I think Tom lost his train of thought, so it didn't go well.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 12:20

1 Answer 1


Jimmy Kimmel Live is not a live, spontaneous television program Wikipedia. So, my first thought was "better ask the writers of the program".

While television is usually not "real", a second thought was "there might be something here".

The comments on this question are good, and I determined to ask some questions.

There is some possibility that many Americans do not readily remember exactly how they were evaluated in school.
Older people I asked first responded "tests" when asked about evaluation in school. Younger people the same.
But further questions had the older people remembering "quiz" and "exam" also. Younger people tended to stay on "test".

Other inquiries produced an anecdote about a 15 year old girl who laughed when her father said that a "limb" had fallen on a walking path. She was sure a "limb" was an arm or leg.

There is nothing definitive in what I learned. But it may well be that English as used by Americans is evolving faster than some of us might think. It may be getting simpler. That may explain how the writer or writers of Jimmy Kimmel Live came to this attempt at humor. Maybe "exams" are not such a conscious part of some American's schooling today. Or, this whole business might be some fluke.

The answer to this question has to come from those who originated the words that motivated the question. My first thought seems validated. But, as there is little hope of getting the required information from the actual source, the continuing thoughts I had may help explain things a little.

The end answer has to involve those who created this "humor" I am sure there is no recourse to finding a definitive answer beyond the ultimate motivation for the question, those who are responsible for the program.

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