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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 34 no. 17. September 22 1971

How to Win at Exams Without Really Cheating

page 5

How to Win at Exams Without Really Cheating

Now is the time of year when you are worrying about the fact that you should be worrying about the exams. You look at the amount of work you still have to swot and say "Stuff it!" Pause to consider that perhaps you might be going just the wrong way about passing exams.


Remember, exams are only three hours long. They can never cover all your course. They seem comprehensive purely by fraud. This is done in one of two ways:

a. Such general questions are asked in such a roundabout way that you feel that whatever you write is trivial or slightly off the mark. For an example, take these questions from a German II paper. You were offered a choice of fifteen topics from which you had to write on three. From the choice comes questions like:
  • Klopstock and Goethe.
  • Herder: new perspectives and directions.
  • Weimer 1775-1786
  • 'Sentimentalised and 'romantisch'.
Or a slightly different type, very prevalent in subjects like English and History, this time from an English III paper:

"Why is all art to be restricted to the uniform level of domesticity? Whenever humanity wrestles with the gods of passion and pain, there, of necessity, is that departure from our diurnal platitudes which the cant of criticism denounces. The mystery of evil is as interesting to us now as it was in the time of Shakespeare, and it is downright affectation of effeminacy to say we are never to glance into that abyss." (Dickens, in an editorial in All The Year Round) To what extent does Dickens succeed in his imaginative handling of "the mystery of evil" and "the gods of passion and pain"?

The first examples are impossible to give a satisfactory answer to; the best thing to do, if you must write on topics of this type, is to restrict the topic in your first sentence, i.e. Klopstock and Goethe. "As this question is so large I will restrict myself to talking about whether there is any foundation in the current rumour that Goethe was Klopstock's step-uncle by a former marriage.", or else just to scribble like a bastard.

The example from the English paper is perplexing. Are you to talk about the quotation, that is, that Dickens has lifted himself above the "diurnal platitudes" of domesticity, or that Dickens is a tuff guy to talk about these devils and gods? Surely not! The quotation, that has taken you five to ten minutes to roll around inside your head, is irrelevant. It is put in there only to impress you with the scope of the lecturer's reading. In such circumstances ignore the quotation completely.

b. A more usual form of exam is with questions of considerable depth on selected topics. These exams are easier to pass, as all you need to do is to discover what topics are being included. For this you need to study past exam papers. A person of my aquaintance, studying History I from Massey last year, not only predicted the exam topics accurately, but also knew the approximate wording and the place in the paper where each topic could be found. She merely ticked off the five questions she had prepared and started writing. Exams test techniques as much as knowledge.

Your lecturer is a good source of information. Never get on the wrong side of him. It is worth going to great lengths to gratify his whims. Agree with him, drink with him, sleep with him, even whip him if he is in a mood for it. Remember it is his baby you are sitting.

It is usually not too hard to find the book where his lecture notes come from. Study it closely, but never, under any circumstances acknowledge that you have read it. He will think you a genius for having views that happen to coincide with his secondhand ones.

Note his quirks and turns of phrase and use them without hesitation throughout the exam. He will never notice that you are humouring him, but will consider that you are writing fluently and well. A friend of mine once even went as far as to insert stage directions - (here pivot on left foot) - (continue throwing chalk from hand to hand - suddenly drop it for laughs) etc. I wouldn't go so far as to advise this, but it is on the right track.

Of course, you must invite him to your pre-exam party. Ply him with drinks and talk about Muldoon or the weather until he is positively staggering. Then throw him a few hard questions like socks to the jaw. (Be brutal - they are payed to help you) If the strain of a year's lecturing has been sufficient he should crumple and begin sobbing, and you will be able to mould him like putty.

Psychological Intimidation

Of course, the Pre-exam Party Trick is one of the best ways of breaking the spirit of your competitors. Invite the whole class to a party the night before the first exam.

You will generally find that none will come, but they will all feel remarkably shaken to know that you can hold a party at that time. Rub it in by telling them the next time you meet them that you hope they fail.

Another technique that I have often seen used is the Honesty Pays Trick. II you are doing no work, don't try to conceal it. A much greater psychological victory can be gained by telling everybody you don't need to work. Alternatively you can spend all day in the cafeteria, and when you are asked why you are not swotting you can reply, with your nose upturned, "I need a little relaxation. I am doing much more work that you!" However I would not recommend this second technique, as it is not being completely honest.

Confidence, or at least an air of confidence, is of utmost importance in breaking down the defence of your rivals. Convince them that you know the work and they don't. Tell them of all the topics that could be in the exams. They will take fright, tell that you have learnt more than them, and try to expand their programme.

When the exam time comes don't wait at the entrance looking through scores of notes. There is nothing more calculated to put you off. Arrive ten minutes late, just when the other entrants have settled down (after all, what is ten minutes, when compared to the disruption you cause). Finish your answer book within an hour (even if you have to miss out pages to do so), and make sure everyone hears you ask for more paper.

Harassement Tricks

Very frequently you must look to the supervisor as your friend in this part of your campaign. I have frequently gone to examinations where the chatter of the supervisor has stopped any intelligent thinking in the room. This is due, of course, to the bribes of a competitor in the room next door. If this happens all you can do is resolve that she is only hindering the others in the class, and help her as much as you can in her aim. Once a supervisor spent most of the exam time telling the competitors what they were entitled to, how to head their paper, and other distracting information. This is bad - the essence of harassment is that you do not yourself get harassed. Ask questions. - what sort of knot you should tie in your little piece of brown string; whether it is alright for you to put your number in the corner where it says to put your name - there are numerous ploys you can use. But it is probably better for you to take over, completely and use your own strategy.

One of the best and most used ploys is the Paper Asking Trick. Make sure you use this when the supervisor's back is turned, so that you can make a great deal of noise. If you sit in an inaccessible place, so much the better.

Another gimmick that seems to be finding increasing favour is the Windown Sitting Trick. Sit in the full sun in a window seat, and, in the course of the exam ask if you can move. This is guaranteed to upset a considerable number of people, especially the others in the room sitting in full sun; they spend the rest of the exam wondering if they should have asked to move as well.

Closely allied to this is the 'Excuse Me' Trick. The name is confusing. Never ask to be excused. Always state in a loud voice: "I want to have a piss!" This is sure to shock half the room. But the main value of this trick is that suspicious minds consider that you have notes outside that you could be looking up. Of course, if you do have anything you want to look up - but I must not put ideas into your head.

Finally, don't forget that you are permitted to eat in the exams. The Crunching Trick is an old favourite which is still popular. In Oxford, as the story goes, all competitors used to be entitled to a pint of ale in the exam, but rumour has it that the last time a student asked for his pint he was later disqualified for not wearing silver slippers.

I don't know whether it would work but I have often considered turning up for an exam equpped with a portable and insisting that I be permitted to type. It seems ludicrous to me that in exams you have to pursue such an outmoded convention as writing your script legibly with a pen.


Boast about how easy the paper was. Let your rivals know that you had prepared for all questions so well that you could not decide which to answer. Don't suffer from false modesty. Tell them all what great chances you have. But be careful that you don't talk about what you wrote. Hear the answers other people have given, then wax sarcastic, and tell them how wrong they were. In this way you will be able to conceal your own ignorance.

Finally, and by this time all your scruples will have gone by the board, you must tell as many people as you can the wrong date for the next paper.

Schools are a continuation of toilet training.

Taking an exam is like taking a shit. You hold it in for weeks, memorizing, just waiting for the right time. Then the time comes, and you sit on the toilet.



It feels so good.

You shit it right back on schedule - for the grade. When exams are over, you got a load off your mind. You got rid of all the shit you clogged your poor brain with. You can finally relax.

The paper you write your exam on is toilet paper.

Jerry Rubin, Do it!