Questions Not To Ask On The First Day Of Class

Note: I wrote this several weeks ago and let it sit so I could take all (or at least most) of the snarkiness out of it before I posted it.

Permit me for a moment to address one of my (admittedly many) pet peeves. I know that some of my seminary friends cringe at these same questions so I’ll take the heat and say what they’re all thinking.

The following list is a list of questions that I have heard all too often from people who should know better. These questions absolutely should not be asked in a seminary class:

Question 1: Can I read ahead (or do extra reading)?

Since when has a teacher ever told you not to read ahead? I’m not saying that it never happens, but how common is it? I don’t know if this question is intended to impress the prof and your fellow students but if it is, it doesn’t work. Besides, if you have time to read so far ahead (or to read so much extra), you need a job, or you should start helping your wife with the kids, or you aren’t taking enough classes.

Question 2: Will you really [insert threat from the syllabus]?

For example: Will you really knock off one letter grade per day if the assignment is late? Or: Are you really going to lower the highest possible grade if we take an incomplete?

The answer is “Yes”! That’s why it’s in the syllabus. The prof probably had others try the same shenanigans in class that you are planning to try and is trying to put a stop to it. If you don’t believe him, hand it in late and see.

Corollary: I can’t speak for the prof, but I am quite certain that if your grandmother dies or you need surgery he’ll work with you, but he’s not going to say that in class, or grandmothers will start dropping like flies and surgeon’s schedules will miraculously fill up in the weeks before Christmas. Just take it up with him later (if that even occurs).

Question 3: What will be on the test?

I’m sorry. I apologize in advance for what I am about to say. Those of you who didn’t go to college or grad school or seminary, please show pity and compassion on me. Please pray for me and my cynical, judgmental heart. But this has got to be one of the dumbest questions I have ever heard asked.

If the prof is going to tell you ahead of time what will be on the test, any reasonable person would simply study that and nothing else. This means you will pass the test, get a good grade, and seem educated, but you will not have learned what you’re supposed to in the class. The purpose of the class is to educate you and to provide tools for future use and further learning; working simply to pass the test rarely accomplishes these goals.

The short answer is: Anything covered in class has the chance of ending up on the test. (More on this in the next question.)

Question 4: Will the quizzes cover the reading or the lectures?

This one is closely tied to the previous. To his credit, my prof answered this question with a simple “Yes.”

Here’s a tip for those who haven’t figured this out yet: quizzes and tests will cover anything that is covered during the course of the class. Anything is fair game. This means that, yes, you will have to read the books and you will have to come to class and you will have to pay attention to the class lectures. Oh, and you will have to study, too.

Question 5: What kind of questions will be on the test?

Answer: The kinds of questions that find out whether or not you read the books, paid attention to the lectures, and interacted with the material. What kind of questions were you expecting? He’s the prof; he can put any kind of question on the test he wants. Most tests usually have many different kinds of questions. Since this is “the graduate level” that we’re working on (a phrase I get so tired of hearing; can we let it go already?) I imagine the prof will ask questions that will require you to think, questions that will require you to answer things in your own words, and questions that will require you to make connections between different types of information or different facts. If he spends quite a bit of time on a certain verse or a certain group of facts or ideas, that’s probably a clue that the verse, facts, or ideas are significant and if something is significant, it will probably be on the test. While most people in the class might be thinking this, you only embarrass yourself by asking this out loud.

Question 6: Should we spend most of our time memorizing or reading?

If you not only read (as in move your eyes across the page) but actually pay attention to what you read (really reading as opposed to simply looking like or acting like youre reading), you shouldn’t have to memorize that much. Most of memory is simply paying attention. I’ll say that again because it’s important: Most of memory is simply paying attention. Turn off the TV, close down the computer, put the video game controller down (you’re an adult for crying-out-loud), show some discipline, and study. If you simply pay attention, you’ll be able to reproduce it on the test. If you can’t, you didn’t learn it no matter how well you may memorized it. If you interact with it, you’ll have little difficulty reproducing it on the test or using it in real-life situations.

After sitting silently and patiently for the 25 minutes it took for these six questions to be asked on the first night of class, answered, asked again, parsed, and each subtle nuance elucidated, I finally just asked the prof to give us copies of the test that very night so that all our questions would be answered.

What troubles me most is that these are the people who will be leading Christianity into the next generation.


About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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