Sometime in the early 1970s, the University of Alabama had a notion that it would require every freshman to take a one-hour pass-fail course on adapting to life in college. I don’t remember the exact name of the course, but that’s what it amounted to. Nor do I remember the name of the teacher, or even what subject he taught when he wasn’t babysitting freshmen.
I suspect it was engineering or something in sciences, because I never saw or heard from him again.
“Here’s the deal,” he said as he introduced himself. “Everybody in this course passes, whether you come or not. There won’t be any tests, and I won’t call roll. Now then. I’ll be here at the same time every week, and I’ll do my best to help you figure out how to do well in college. Come or don’t come. It doesn’t matter to me.”
I perked up. I’d seen the rankings at orientation that said I had less than a 20 percent chance of getting a B average, and I’d been admitted on probation, by the skin of my teeth. I came, and listened.
“Now then,” the teacher said, “I’m going to tell you how not to flunk an exam. I could tell you what you already know, that the best way to do well is to keep up with your reading, take good notes and study throughout the test. So I’m not going to tell you that. I’m going to tell you how to avoid choking and flunking the big one, and the answer is this – never study on the day of the exam.”
That was it?
“Studies have shown that for everything you learn cramming at the last minute, you forget two or three other things. So whether you studied all along or messed around all semester, it doesn’t matter. All you can do on the day of the test is make it worse. So here’s what you do. Go down to the Union Building (the snazzy new Ferguson Center wouldn’t open until the spring) and shoot some pool. Or just walk around. But whatever you do, don’t study.”
He seemed to know what he was talking about, and in four years, I shot a good bit of pool on test days. Sometimes I just rode my bike around. But I only studied once on the day of the test. A couple of friends in the same class came to my apartment my sophomore year and didn’t leave until 6 a.m.
In four years, it was the only exam I flunked.