Sometimes starting a new post is like turning over an exam paper to find there isn’t a single question you can answer. Like poor Manuel in Fawlty Towers, you know nothing.
Just such a calamity is described in a 1954 book The Exam Secret by one Dennis B. Jackson, BA (Hons):
What are you to do? Gaze blankly at the ceiling, awaiting divine inspiration? Panic madly? Sit gibbering? Hand in your papers and stalk out of the room grumpily? Throw a fit? Vomit? Despair?
No! You must do none of these. The situation is vital. There is a battle to be won. And the great weapon in your armoury is – “The Gentle Art of Bluff”.
You must “waffle”. And you must choose good questions suitable for “waffling” …
I well remember my dad chucking this book in the bin when he read this rather questionable advice. My dad was an honourable and conscientious man who would have done enough work to answer every conceivable question they threw at him. By contrast, I tended to skimp on revision and was curiously attracted by the idea of lying to the examiners – which is what Dennis B. Jackson, BA (Hons) advocated.
He blithely suggested the unprepared candidate make up bogus quotations by imaginary experts while entertaining the examiner with plenty of little jokes and anecdotes. All would be well as long as you sounded purposeful and kept saying you were answering the question when you obviously weren’t. Helpfully, he provided a sample answer with lots of outrageous bluffing.
Hmm, so this is where all the trouble started!
Recently I picked up a second-hand copy of this book – a later edition – and noticed the following footnote from the publisher:
It is not the job of a publisher to be a censor … My own view is that exams are about the most beastly test which man has yet devised, and it’s time he found some truer method. Thus I feel the pupil’s integrity is not seriously damaged by the use of bluff when short of knowledge.
The point I want to make is rather to warn all that I think most of us would have to be awfully careful, especially in making up quotations, not to have our bluff discovered. Few are so gifted as the author of our book!
What a spoilsport! He admits himself the system is unfair. Well, I for one will continue to write about things I know nothing whatsoever about so long as the world keeps sending me questions I can’t even begin to answer …
Image: Swanwick Hall