As a college student, your life is filled with work, schoolwork, friends, fun, sleep, food, and adventure. It unfortunately is less so filled with time. As such you may find that you’re behind in class: you haven’t done the reading, let’s say, or you forgot to bring the book. Or you forgot to bring the book you didn’t read. It’s tricky. Fortunately, I’m here to help. If you’re woefully ill-prepared for any non-scientific class (this works with words, not numbers)  here are some tips to skate through it.

Be Alert

Nothing tips off a teacher more than misplaced eyes. It’s a giant “slacker” sticker posted on your forehead. Being alert- even when you have nothing to add- gets to misplace suspicion that you’re completely unprepared.Furthermore you get to glean what’s going on when your other classmates talk. You’ll get character names, or the topic of conversation. Then you’ll have something to regurgitate if called on.

“I’m looking for a quote”

Say it with me. This is my personal bread and butter for those rare (okay, not that rare) occasions where I’m ill-prepared in class. If I’ve been zoned out or worse, I haven’t read, this is what I say. It’s the total package: it’s a cop-out, a stall-tactic, and you sound smarter. You can then flip through the book rapidly towards the section you’re discussing. You’ll probably find something vaguely useful and if you can’t find it, you’re no worse off than you started. Better yet, you can then share credit if someone quotes something good later: smack the table and half-nod. That was just the one you were looking for? The move of a scoundrel? Perhaps. But an effective scoundrel is a happy one.

Ask Specific yet Vague Questions

Not a “What is this book about” question that shows your ignorance, but a deep “What is this book about” type question that says nothing but gives you credit for speaking. For example,ask a question that takes an angle on what someone said and then re-asks it in a risk-free way. For example, if someone is talking about character X in book Y and says that character X is the villain, ask: is character X really the villain? If you’re reading any college-level literature, the work should be open to interpretation, and that means there will be different view points. Maybe society is the real villain (As an English major: it’s usually society). Maybe you can’t trust the narrator (again, yup). Either way, it’s a safe bet to question any statement someone else made in a gentle way: they’ll have to refine their point and you’ll look deep. If called out, state that “well, there’s a quote…um…one second…”


Hopefully this can help you manage the occasional zoned-out class or moment in the liberal arts.

Please do not try this in math. Teacher’s don’t like arguing about what really is an even number.

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