And now, you see, having dazzled me, won me by your personal, involved, independently-minded assertion, your only job is to keep me awake. When I sleep I give C’s. How? By FACTS. Any kind, but do get them in. They are what we look for—a name, a place, an allusion, an object, a brand of deodorant, the titles of six poems in a row, even an occasional date. This, son, makes for interesting (if effortless) reading, and this is what gets A’s. Underline them, capitalize them, insert them in the top, “Illustrate;” “Be specific;” etc.? They mean it. The illustrations, of course, need not be singularly relevant; but they must be there.
If Vague Generalities are anathema, sparkling chips of concrete scattered throughout your bluebook will have you up for sainthood. Or at least Dean’s List. Name at least the titles of every other book Hume wrote; don’t just say Medieval cathedrals, name nine. Think up a few specific examples of “contemporary decadence,” like Natalie Wood. If you can’t come up with titles, try a few sharp metaphors of your own; they at least have the solid clink of pseudo-facts.
That’s the secret, really. Don’t write out “TIME!!!” in inch-high scrawl—it only brings out the sadist in us. Don’t (Cliffies) write offers to come over and read aloud to us your illegible remarks—we can (officially) read anything, and we may be married. Write on both sides of the page—single bluebook finals look like less work to grade and win points. This chic, shaded calligraphic script so many are affecting lately is handsome and is probably worth a good extra five points if you can hack it.
But above all, keep us entertained. Keep us awake. Be bold, be personal, be witty, be chock full of facts. I’m sure you can do it all without studying if you try. We did.
This letter first ran on January 26, 1962.