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The Socratic Method and How to Avoid it

By Sarah Loh

student writing to notebook at exam or lecture

Stare at your pen intensely to avoid eye contact with the lecturer.

It is a proud tradition of law schools to develop the intellectual agility of their students by an invasive throwing of questions at them. This challenges the student to craft an answer on the spot which combines the knowledge of their readings with their own critical thinking. But it is a proud tradition of students to not do the readings. How to reconcile these two opposing but equally important traditions?

This article provides you with a number of techniques to help you effectively avoid answering questions while maintaining respect for the right of lecturers to ask those questions.

Blend in.

Like a tiger in the grasslands who doesn’t want to be exposed as not having done the readings, blending in is a tried and true technique used across the animal kingdom. Black coats are always a safe bet in winter, but it is worth keeping an eye on what fashion trends are hot right now. Do 90% of men still have the shaved-on-the-sides, long-on-top haircut? What are the Glassons colours at the moment? Do the research. One of my classmates made the mistake of wearing stripy pink socks to class thinking her legs would be hidden under a desk, but the lecturer had noticed when she walked in and called upon Stripy Socks first thing. Don’t make the mistake of thinking lecturers aren’t watching. They’re probably watching you right now.

Look too eager.

Cock your head to the side and smile too widely. This isn’t the kind of person you want to engage in casual small talk with let alone vigorous academic questioning. The more uneasiness you can induce the better. Practice with your friends.

Read your notes intensely.

You don’t have time to answer questions! You’re busy cramming your mind with knowledge. If your lecturer is persistent you need to be prepared for a standoff between them trying to get your attention and you acting absorbed in your notes. Odds are your neighbour will tap you on your shoulder. The whole lecture theatre could get involved. Only adopt this method if you have the resolve to pretend to keep reading through all this.

The techniques discussed so far can work if there is no seating chart. But what if your lecturer is slowly working their way down a map of names, methodically striking victim after victim like a snake you respect because of their incredible knowledge of the law?

Manipulate the Seating Chart.

Put a name on the seating chart that is phonetically the same as someone else’s name on the seating chart who sits nearby. If you allow a few seconds of silence, the other person will answer and it will be assumed there was a bit of a mix up. I can vouch for this method as it is something I adopted entirely by accident. Thank you Sarah Lo.

Write down a name that’s impossible to pronounce.

Why call on Fjrgtjhrethk Jhgdfjghuwq when you can call on easy target Johnny John Johnston.

Ignore them.

As opposed to technique three, this technique does not require you to pretend not to hear them. You could look straight at them and smile fully engaged, but let the words roll over you like water. If you can pull this off, nothing can touch you.

Quizzically look at the person next to you or behind you.

Even when they say, “No you!” look at the person behind that person and so on and so on. If your pesky neighbour chips in, “I think they mean you” quickly talk over them with, “I think they mean you”. Immature, but effective.

There is one last method. Maybe you crack easily under the pressure of a lecture theatre full of people staring at you; maybe you have your pride and want to keep it. If for these or any other reason you can’t bring yourself to adopt these excellent techniques, there is the ace card you can keep up your sleeve if things get desperate.

Do your readings.

This will give you the incredible ability to know the answers to the questions. Maybe you’ll even want to be called on! The easy confidence this gives you is a guaranteed way to ensure the lecturer doesn’t ask you questions.