Beating the System

The Harvard examinations system is designed, according to its promulgators to test two specific things, knowledge of trends and knowledge of detail. Mem approaching the examination, problem have three choices: 1. flunking out, 2. doing work, or 3. working out some system of fooling the grader. The first, choice of solution is too permanent and the second takes too long.

This article is designed to explain how to achieve the third answer to this perplexing problem by the use of the vague generality, the artful equivocation and the overpowering assumption.

It seems pretty obvious that in any discussion of the various methods whereby the crafty student attempts to show the grader that he knows a lot more than he actually does, the vague generality is the key device. A generality is a vague statement that means nothing by itself, but when placed in an essay on a specific subject might very well mean something to grader. The true master of a generality is the man who can write a ten page essay, which means nothing at all to him, and have it mean a great deal to anyone who reads it. The generality writer banks on the knowledge possesed by the grader, hoping the marker will read things into his essay.

Every nonmathematical field in the University has its own set of vague generalities. For instance:

"Hume brought empiricism to its logical extreme." (Philosophy)


"The whole thing boils down to government versus property rights." (Government)

"Moby Dick" is written on three levels. (English)

"The Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire." (History)

"Locke is a Transitional figure." (Philosophy)

"Marx turned Hegel upside down." (Gen. Ed.)

"Any theory of underconsumption and purchasing power must be grounded in the psychology of the people." (Economics)

"Berlioz is the founder of modern orchestration." (Music)

"Shaw's heroes are men of moral passion." (English 160)

"Differentiation and integration are fundamental to the dynamic maturation of the human organism." (Social Relations)

To check the operation of a vague generaliy under fire, take the typical example, "Hume brought empiricism to its logical extreme." The question is asked. "Did the philosophical beliefs of Hume represent the spirit of the age in which he lived?" Our hero replies by opening his essays with "David Hume, the great Scottish philosopher, brought empiricism to its logical extreme. If this be the spirit of the age in which he lived than he was representative of it." This generality expert has already taken his position for the essay. Actually he has not the vaguest idea of what Hume really said, or in fact what he said it in, or in fact if he ever said anything. But by never bothering to define empiricism, he may write indefinitely on the issue, virtually without contradiction.