Freshman year spring term. As Dickens opened A Tale of Two Cities, the best of times and the worst of times. The best because academic diligence took a holiday and I rather enjoyed myself. The worst because, well, academic diligence took a holiday. Another Harvard “Hum” course, this one Hum 75, German culture. All readings and all lectures auf Deutch. I think I did most of the spring reading but lecture attendance? Not so much. As the class assembled for the final exam I noticed that everyone else carried a book. Upon closer inspection I realized they were German-English dictionaries. Uh oh. The reason for their sanctioned use soon became clear: half of the exam consisted of a series of excerpts, each by a different author whose work we had read that semester. But the excerpts were from works other than the assigned reading. Students were supposed to analyze these unseen pieces and deduce, from the style, who the author was. The professor apparently felt that the task was tough enough without the additional obstacle of deciphering possibly unfamiliar language. Fortunately, as my classmates will attest, one of the cogent skills we learned was the ability to hold forth at any time, at any place and upon any subject. With or without the facts. Thankfully it worked just as well without facts in German as it does in English.
Fast forward to law school: Constitutional Law. The course materials consisted of a typical casebook plus a paperbound study guide, actually quite useful, that included sample questions to test one’s understanding of the material, along with an answer key and further explanation of each correct answer. The course requirement was a paper plus the final exam. The professor, who was more than a little full of himself, decreed that the only fair examination was one with generous time limits and an “open book” format. The test was scheduled for a Saturday to permit students up to six hours to complete the exam. Unlike my Hum 75 book-less experience I decided to utilize all permitted materials and brought both the casebook and the study guide. When the exam commenced I quickly realized two things: (a) the questions were all multiple choice (and there were many); and (b) the questions looked awfully familiar, as if they had come from something I had looked over recently. Like the study guide. And they were. I would like to say that I did the honorable thing and refrained from checking my exam responses agains the study guide in my hands. Yeah. I would like to say that. . . .