Overview:

Bob Dobalena graduated college with an A average, and he wrote a pamphlet showing how college students can succeed.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Bob Dobalena is a guy I met in college days. He graduated summa cum laude. That’s an A average after 120 hours of classes.

Every term during his four years at university, Bob circulated a pamphlet of his own composition called, 10 Steps For College Success. I didn’t follow Bob’s advice but I kept a copy of his leaflet and below is the text of it.

Bob Dobalena, a straight-A student, advises the following:

1. You’ll need a stack of $5 bills and a stapler. Or a large paper clip. Or a super-sticky glue stick. When you submit papers or tests to your professors, always affixed a $5 bill to the backside of the sheet, using either the stapler (and a bit iffy because the government frowns on defacing currency), or the large paper clip (best option), or the super-sticky glue stick (somewhat hazardous if the bill should fall off in transit).

2. Always arrive at a professor’s office with a cup of coffee for them. Learn beforehand if they take the coffee black, or with a splash of half and half, or 2%, or with raw or refined sugar. You’ll find that professors will protest the gift: ‘I can’t accept this!’—even as they are already in the process of removing the lid and taking the first sip. ‘It wouldn’t be right.’ Second sip. Third sip.

3. Professors have enormous egos that need to be stroked like Siamese cats. And so, after a class, you should praise their lectures lavishly. For instance: “Professor Laggoshire, that was the finest lecture I’ve ever heard on the implosion theory! Masterful.” And “Professor Yeltowald, that was a remarkable lecture on the poetics of Rabanus Maurus! I’m amazed.” And “Professor Ikleberry, your lecture on functionalism knit every ear in the classroom to your experienced tongue! Unforgettable.” And so on. With these expressions of admiration, you plume the professors’ self-esteem, and you’ll see that your praise will always be met with puffed chests and smiles so wide that you can see their molars.

4. Professors will say correlation, not causation, is at work in the connection between your offerings to them and your receiving higher grades. They’ll say: “No one can link the gifts I receive to the grades I assign. Accusing me of taking gifts for grades wouldn’t hold up in a trial entailing a jury of my peers, by which I mean my fellow professors.” Most profs will chuckle after delivering a line like that. So, the professors are on your side in this whole matter.

5. Of course you can’t be a total stone noggin. You have to study and offer your best writing

6. Write in a literary style for your science and social science profs, knowing they will be unduly impressed by florid prose. So for instance, whereas you might normally write a simple line like “Einstein/Weber/Tyler (whoever) kept this datum a secret,” say instead, “Einstein stalled this in his breast.” That kind of thing will always receive a red-inked exclamation point.

7. But a baroque style won’t work on your English or history or philosophy professors. Sure, you’ll have to lay on the subordinate clauses and produce freakishly long sentences for these profs, but you’ll need to reign in the ornamentation, which these profs will perceive as profligate, and they’ll downgrade you for your zeal.

8. Essay-test preparation should entail memorizing an opening paragraph of your own creation, and the profs are going to get this paragraph no matter what they ask. This tactic has four beneficial returns: First, the opening paragraph is artfully designed and speaks of ‘A’ level of excellence to the professors right off the bat. And since the first paragraph might be the only paragraph the professors read and grade, so much the better. Second, you won’t have any immediate writer’s block since you’ve memorized a paragraph and this will get the juices flowing for the second paragraph where you’ll actually have to address the question that is being asked. Third, the profs will observe that you are writing furiously from the get-go and assume that you are fully prepared for the test. Fourth, there is an unintentional effect of dimming the performance of students around you, who will also see you writing furiously and assume that you are way more prepared than they are for these tests, which will dishearten them a bit and tamp down their execution, sending them all into the pile of B-level tests.

9. Beyond this, never cheat or plagiarize or sleep with a professor to get a better grade. Keep your standards and values!

10. This combination of the $5 bills, the free coffees, and the extravagant praise, added to your own efforts at studying and writing and test-taking, will pay off. You’ll graduate summa cum laude.

After graduating college, Bob Dobalena went on the get advanced degrees, even a Ph.D. He’s now a tenured professor at a Midwestern university. In a recent phone call he said this to me:

“I smile at students who pull the same stunts on me that I performed on my profs all those years ago. I smile, but I also have to admit that these students are among my best. They’re my A students. There’s zero connection between their gifts to me and their lofty grades. Correlation and coincidence, you can be sure, do not suggest causation. Accusing me of taking gifts for grades wouldn’t hold up in a trial entailing a jury of my peers, by which I mean my fellow professors.”

He chuckled after he delivered those lines.

I told him I disagreed with him back in our college days and I disagree with him now. He chuckled again, and he kept on chuckling as we agreed to have drinks next time he’s in town. When we said our goodbyes, he was chuckling still.

J. H. McKenna (Ph.D.) has taught the history of atheism and other classes since 1999 at the University of California, where he has won teaching awards. He has published in academic journals and the LA...