How to Survive an 8 a.m. Class When You Haven’t Read the Material

It happens to the best of us: you chose sleep over studying; you read the wrong date on the syllabus; there were one too many club meetings the night before; maybe you just plain forgot. Regardless of the perfectly legitimate reason, here you are, sitting in class, totally unprepared. Instead of flailing around for an excuse when you’re called on, only to answer with, “I, um, didn’t do the reading,” it’s time you learned one of the most vital academic skills of all: the art of B.S.
It is worth noting, of course, that this isn’t the type of skill you should use on a daily basis. In general, excelling in the classroom means keeping up the your assignments, reading and all, even if it means turning down social invitations or staying up past 3 a.m. the night before. But in the event that breaking out your flubbing talents is necessary, however, there’s no reason to be ashamed: everyone, even the most studious of students, has an off day.
So, hypothetically speaking, you’re panicking about your lack of preparedness in the middle of class. The first step to survival is playing it cool. Simply acting like you’ve read the material for class is the most important thing you can do. In case you haven’t noticed yet, professors enjoy calling on those who are most clearly unprepared; they generally can tell which students did the reading the night before, either because those students have a good track record, or because they don’t have a look of pure terror on their faces.
So give the appearance of looking ready. Make sure you’re as awake as possible; have a thermos of coffee (or caffeinated beverage of choice) at the ready so that you can rejuvenate throughout the 40-minute session. If nothing else, at least look awake; you may not have gotten any sleep the night before, but your professor doesn’t need to know that. Rub the sleepies out of your eyes, wash your face, sit up straight, and, above all, dress for the occasion.
If possible, skim the material before the lecture. Skimming is an art form in and of itself, so here’s a crash course: read the first and last paragraphs in full; read the first sentence of all other paragraphs; look for proper nouns and sentences that focus on who, what, where, and when. Try to formulate at least a broad sense of the material’s intent.
If you don’t have the reading material with you, don’t make it obvious. Sitting at an empty desk is about the biggest mistake you can make. Instead, try to sit in a somewhat obscured area of the classroom; open up your laptop or notebook and have the syllabus or other papers on hand so that it looks like you’re doing something academic-related; and if possible, sit near a friend or generous classmate and ask to share his or her textbook.
Hopefully, you do have a friend who is willing to lend a hand in your time of need. Ask for help before class begins; inquire what the material was about, ask if you can sit near him or her, and offer a free coffee in exchange for his or her help.
Once class begins, contribute at least once. Listen for questions you know the answer to from the aforementioned skimming or ask a really insightful question. Pay attention, take notes, and think critically, just as you would if you had read the material. Your professor will believe you came prepared, and you’ll actually learn a few things.
If these tips fail you and you’re found out, apologize. Talk to your professor after class and apologize for not coming prepared; offer a brief excuse for why you didn’t have time to read (make sure it’s a legitimate reason, so lie if necessary); and say it won’t happen again.

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