“So, does anyone have any thoughts about the reading?” the professor asks for the second time. The silence becomes unbearable and I don’t think I can stare at the floor much longer. My hand jolts in the air before I have time to realize what I’m about to do, and as elegantly as I can, I express how much a particular passage from the reading (conveniently, the only one I read) resonated with me. She smiles and uses my comment as a jumping point to begin class discussion. I don’t aim to be the teacher’s pet, but every class needs a hero.
Ever find yourself in a similar situation – wanting desperately to break the awkward silence during class discussion? Every silent moment brings professors closer to enforcing the dreaded “p” word: pop quizzes. This horror can be prevented if just one person pulls through for the class and demonstrates that he has “done the reading.” Follow these steps and you too can become the class hero without actually reading the entire chapter.
Feel things out
It will become obvious after the first few classes how your professors incorporate readings into their lectures and assignments. For example, if assignments are all take-home and you can reference the readings, you can set those books aside and let them collect dust until you need to reference them. Just breathe and get through those rough few days of struggling through readings as you survey each of your classes and scout out the shortcuts.
Try the middle page method
Remember that college is more than reading and schoolwork. If you actually completed every reading, when would you have time for hanging out with friends, having late night dates with Netflix and getting lost in the depths of Facebook stalking your boss’s sister’s daughter’s new boyfriend? To find the healthy balance, you have to be stingy with your effort. I recommend reading one page, max. Close your eyes and randomly flip to a page. Read that page fully, write down a few notes on what you read and how it relates to something mentioned in class, and bring those notes to class the next day. Most likely, no one else read that page if it was in the middle of a 100 page reading. The amateur slackers only read the introductions and conclusions. You are better and sneakier than that.
Be strategic with testing
As soon as you find out how you will use class material, plan accordingly. If testing is all essay-based, there’s no need to keep up with the readings. You’ll be able to formulate a good thesis from lecture, so simply pull quotes from the readings to support your argument. You’ll be able to create the illusion that you read, and illusions are good enough. On the other hand, if your teacher gives you a study guide for a multiple choice or short-answer test, find some study buddies and fill out the study guide together by searching through the readings. Then, shove the readings off the table and study only the study guide. Even larger essay questions can be addressed by stitching together pieces from the study guide. Condense. Condense. Condense.
Be confident in class
This step is the hardest, but if you channel Lady Gaga and put on your best poker face, you can feign confidence. Come to class with three strong bullet points to say and sit in the front of the classroom because professors will assume you’re prepared for class if you’re willing to risk sitting so close to them. When the professor asks for a response to something that even remotely relates to one of your bullet points, confidently raise your hand high in the air and force the connection. That’s what professors want: connections. When you successfully participate, give yourself a hair flip and silently rock out to Gaga. They can NOT read your poker face, champ.
Never show signs of weakness
If the professor asks if anyone did the reading, always say you did. I mean, technically you aren’t lying because you did read something. Showing weakness reveals the inner slacker you’re trying to hide. You’re a strong slacker…no, you’re the class hero. Class heroes don’t show weakness.
The next time you’re sitting in class, remember that participation is a competition. If you earn your ranking as one of the star participators, the professor will think you’re one of the hardest workers in class. Smile and let them believe what they want to believe. Lady Gaga would be so proud.
*Updated July 21, 2016 with an opportunity to save on textbooks.