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A bored man at a lecture

Lectures are the archetypal image of student life. Picture a draughty, high ceilinged theatre with tiered rows of wooden benches angled towards a professor of something obscure peering through his or her glasses at a jumble of notes on the lectern, perhaps talking in Latin or ancient Greek or another dead language like Spartan or Trojan, on a sunny afternoon… The reality is that you’ll be watching a PowerPoint presentation projected onto the whitewashed wall of a half-empty prefab at half past nine in the morning with somebody addressing you in a nasal soporific drone. If you’re lucky it’ll, finish early because of a technical problem. We hate to shatter your illusions, but here are the cold hard facts about lectures.

5 things to spot in a game of lecture hall I Spy

  1. Someone flitting back and forth between a blank word document and Facebook/Twitter/BuzzFeed
  2. An arty type flogging the dead horse known as pen and paper (with ink all over their hands).
  3. A sleeping student blissfully unaware of the trickle of drool threatening to drop out of the corner of their mouth.
  4. The latecomer who arrives guiltily clutching the coffee and breakfast baguette which are evidently to blame for their tardy arrival.
  5. Someone NOT cheekily checking their phone mid-lecture.


For arts students, a more convenient alternative is sourcing TV documentaries and radio podcasts. For example, Louis Theroux’s back catalogue is fantastic for anthropology students; BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time is an encyclopaedic archive of radio broadcasts that covers everything from Romanticism to the theory of relativity. All of this can be watched or listened to from the comfort of your own bed at an hour to suit you, and it’s less embarrassing falling asleep there than in lectures. Though possibly more crowded.

If you do attend lectures, work in the offbeats. Every time the rest of the room starts scribbling or typing, recline in your chair and leisurely examine your cuticles. When they’re bored and nothing is happening, write intently on your laptop. This is a great way to psych people out with a bit of cunning bluffing.


For science students, attendance at lectures is more important. In the arts, only knowing what everyone else knows isn’t as impressive as knowing something they don’t. In the sciences, though, where understanding is gained in a linear and cumulative way, not knowing what everybody else knows is more likely to result in a medical malpractice suit or a collapsing bridge than a high first. Remember the words ‘linear’ and ‘cumulative’, and add them to your Bluffer’s lexicon. They always sound good.


Contrary to popular belief, the best excuse for missing a lecture is not a hangover: it’s having a cold. No 100-word summary that finally explains postmodernism is worth stifling a cough or plugging a runny nose for 50 minutes. Which may be why nobody quite understands postmodernism.


The lectures most worth attending are the ones just before the exam. The lecturers inevitably realise, in panic, that they’ve forgotten to cover a question which is about to come up. So watch for the tell-tale signs: ‘I know the timetable said we’d cover Wagner’s operas, but instead I’d like to talk a bit about Stravinsky…’ That means there’s a question on the latter in the exam, and your lecturer has just got wind of it.


If you have to miss an unmissable lecture, there are some recovery tactics. The first is repeated lectures. This is like catch-up TV, except the time delay is a year, not an hour. The freshers won’t even recognise each other, and so will assume you’re supposed to be there. The second is persuading someone to ‘share’ their lecture notes with you. This is a bit more of a gamble because other people’s notes range from revelatory to incomprehensible to sadistically misleading. Finally, you might find a recording or transcript of the lecture. These are often uploaded onto the university website to aid dyslexic students. Have no qualms about piggy-backing on the resources of the disadvantaged: this is called ‘using your initiative’.

DO ASK ‘Could I see a breakdown of topics for this lecture series? Oh yes, I plan on attending them all but I just wanted to know which weeks to get super excited for…’

DON’T SAY ‘Sorry, I know we’ve overrun but I just have one more question. I’m sure no one minds staying a little longer.’

Happy Bluffing!

Rob Ainsley & Emma Smith