James Bond’s Essay Writing Secrets for Pop Quizzes

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007's Essay Writing Secrets

007's Essay Writing Secrets

The announcement, “Today I have a little quiz for you,” has to rank amongst the “Top Five Most Terrifying Moments” in an Academic Career. When your professor springs a “pop quiz,” usually he’ll instruct you to write essays answering two out of three questions. Will you be prepared? It might be useful to think about how 007 (James Bond) would deal with this situation. Bond trivia fans know that he was kicked out of Eton for repeated curfew violations and “trouble with one of the maids”*, yet went on to attend Fettes College and the London School of Economics. Since he obviously remained enthralled with women, he must have learned a few study secrets along the way. Here is what I imagine he learned to always be prepared without working very hard.

The rationale for pop quizzes is to help professors ascertain whether or not students are keeping up with their reading assignments. Some professors seem to take perverse pleasure in giving pop quizzes; others couldn’t be bothered, simply assuming that students are mature enough to adhere to the reading schedule. Each semester, multiple classes for a particular course may be offered at different times of day or on different days of the week. A different professor teaches each one. During an “online enrollment period,” college students often can choose which class to attend on a “first come; first served” basis. James Bond would determine in advance which professors were prone to giving pop quizzes and try to avoid them. The vast majority of his classmates would not have the foresight to take that precaution.

Devising a plan for online enrollment in next semester’s classes is an absolutely critical academic survival skill. Students should know the date and exact time (usually 7AM) online enrollment begins. They need to know their enrollment password. They need to investigate the reputations of professors conducting each class. Students usually benefit when attending classes taught by dynamic professors who are never boring. Classes meeting at 11AM Tuesdays & Thursdays fill up quickly. Students who dawdle may discover that the only classes left meet at 8AM Mon-Wed-Friday. 8 o’clock classes are death. Set your alarm early and be prepared to login at 7AM sharp!

Not even James Bond would escape “pop quiz” professors every time. What would be his next line of defense? What do you suppose would be his cardinal rule for achieving academic success?

“Always complete each reading assignment before the next class?”


Answer: “Always go to class.”

One good reason for attending class is that since you paid the tuition, you might as well get your money’s worth. True, but that doesn’t state clearly why you need to go to class. When a single textbook costs $150 at Student Bookstores, you must suspect that many contain substantial amounts of “filler” to justify charging such an outrageous price! By going to class, you learn which information the professor deems important in the reading material. This provides insight as to what questions likely will appear on pop quizzes or on final exams. James Bond not only would go to class, but also he’d sit in the front row and participate actively in class discussions. He knows A) this will make mastering the material easier; B) it will help him identify those concepts most important to his professor; C) it will ensure that the professor remembers his name; and D) he’ll gain a distinctive advantage over students who don’t go to class.

Does this imply that James Bond would seldom complete his required reading? Well, not exactly. However, probably he’d take a few “shortcuts.” Here’s one: most textbooks contain a “Summary” at the beginning of each chapter, which can be read in less than 2 minutes. Even if Bond has a “hot date” the night before the next class, he’ll exercise a bit of self-discipline. He’ll always read the summary and skim the text briefly before going out on the town. He’ll devote an extra 60 seconds to considering how the material might relate to the professor’s favorite themes. Finally, he’ll pick out the dates of two events linked to those themes. That may not sound like much, but in just a few minutes, James Bond has given himself a fighting chance.

Let’s suppose there is no pop quiz at the next class meeting. However, Bond’s date had been so marvelous that he’s arranged to meet her again at 7pm. He won’t have time to read the chapter thoroughly. Nevertheless, he’ll have the discipline to spend 15 minutes performing the following task: referring to notes he took during class, James uses a yellow marker to highlight sections of the text dealing with points his professor identified as “significant,” while at the same time, ignoring others. The chapter now looks like Swiss cheese.

When class meets again, the professor gives a pop quiz.  Students must write short essays, answering two out of three questions. One question covers a topic James failed to highlight, but the other two concern material he reviewed briefly. Because he attended every class, James Bond knows the answers the professor expects. He answers the questions in the first sentence of each essay. Then he lists reasons to support his position. He hasn’t read the material, so Bond states conceptual reasons. Lest his essays seem like pure B.S., Bond cites the two dates and events he memorized to provide factual detail. In his last sentence, he paraphrases his first sentence as a conclusion.

The professor decides that Bond answered the questions “correctly.” He articulated important concepts rather vaguely, but did include some detail. While he offered no great insights, Bond presented his ideas systematically, making his essays easy to read. Since Bond always came to class, sat up front, and participated in class discussions, the professor gives James Bond’s pop quiz essays a grade of B. That’s not bad for a guy who hadn’t done his homework.

The point of this hypothetical story is to suggest students should emulate James Bond’s judicious application of self-discipline at just the right moment on a daily basis. A main challenge students face when entering college is learning how to balance their social lives with their academic responsibilities. Many take an “all-or-nothing” approach. “I can’t do any reading tonight because I’m going out with Sue.” James Bond might reply, “It won’t hurt Sue to wait 15 minutes.” He’s right. Even a few minutes of review before going on that date could make a surprising difference. Everyone can spare a few minutes. James Bond’s secret is that he recognizes those times when a few minutes of effort will produce maximum results.

* http://www.mi6.co.uk/sections/articles/bond_21_007_dossier1.php3

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