Your preceptor desperately begs the class for the smallest forms of participation, resorting to basic multiple-choice and simple yes-or-no questions, but the class refuses to relieve him with even a single monosyllabic word. As everyone collectively avoids eye contact, you suddenly take interest in a remarkable corner opposite the preceptor. Someone may have grunted an answer at some point, but nobody has any idea what that person said, and when the preceptor asks the response to be repeated, that person replies with furtive eyes and a sudden fondness of untying and retying his shoelaces. Time slows to a stop as you desperately count the 3000 seconds left until the end of class.
And yet, once you rationally reflect on these precepts, you will find a certain intangible beauty in a class that might otherwise be filled with dread. You can use the class for some long overdue “me time.” Contemplate questions that have plagued generations of Princetonians since the beginning of the 21st century: What exactly was in the egg batter they used for the omelet you had for breakfast, and why was it in a milk carton? What’s the name of the girl sitting next to you? She must’ve told you her name a million times, but you were too busy musing about your breakfast to pay attention. What’s the golden number of Facebook friends one can have so that one looks popular without looking desperate?
If you’re lucky, and you aren’t in one of those absurd “laptop-free” classrooms, you finally have time to take a break from your hectic life and browse the interwebs. Check out the latest pictures of that kid from high school who takes every opportunity to take selfies with his friends to show how well-accepted he finally is. Put on an earphone and watch the latest episode of “Glee” while discreetly nodding along to the songs. Or if you’re particularly interested in reading up on the exploits of your fellow Princetonians, you can check out PFML and see a person asking for the hundredth time whether it’s really, truly against school policy for students to sleep with their preceptors.
Being the overachieving students that we are, we can also use the class productively to acquire new skills. For example, you can use the class to develop different styles of handwriting. Practice cursive so that you can at least make the Honor Code look pretty the next time you fail a midterm. Can’t remember how to write in cursive? Try something completely unrelated and even more useless, like writing with your left hand. If you’re ambidextrous or particularly well-coordinated, or if these suggestions don’t provide enough of a challenge, try writing with your pencil in your mouth. Attempt that last suggestion at your own risk — you may attract the attention of your classmates and your preceptor.
If you are looking for a less writing-intensive alternative, you can develop quite a bit of finger dexterity doing the awkward turtle gesture at every uncomfortable moment. If all else fails, and you’re feeling particularly gutsy (and/or tired), you can take a nap and hope nobody realizes. (Pro-tip: if you’re in a small classroom of 20 or so people and you wake up with no recollection of how you managed to get drool all over your face, you’re fooling yourself if you think nobody realized.)
Alas, truly awkward precepts are but a rare breed, as there is always that one person who enthusiastically raises his hand at every question or boldly calls out the answer when he’s ignored. Thank him, though, because now you can bond with the rest of your class by collectively hating him for making you feel and look bad. But be warned: In the unfortunate scenario in which your preceptor learns your name, be prepared to throw away all naive illusions of security and live the rest of the semester in pure terror, waiting to be called on at every moment.