The Writings of Bertell Ollman
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How to Take an Exam...and Remake the World - Introduction < DIALECTICAL MARXISM: The Writings of Bertell Ollman How to Take an Exam...and Remake the World

It is every student's dream come true: a test with ten True-False questions, where you know beforehand that the right answer to every question is True. And, if you forget, all the correct answers are written on the back of the sheet. Should you still fail, you can take the exam again and again on the same day until you pass. This is the official test to get a hand gun in the state of Michigan, whose major city, Detroit, has been called the "murder capitol" of the U.S. If all your exams are like this one, you can throw this book away right now. If not, some of the exam hints I've collected in the following pages could prove very useful. There's one problem and one catch.

I've taken hundreds of exams as a student and may have given even more in the thirty years that I've been a professor. In the course of all this, I've acquired an enormous exam lore. But, to tell you the truth, I don't feel any strong urge to share it with you. That's the problem. What I really would like to do is to tell you about capitalism, the system by which we produce and distribute the wealth of our society, but I suspect that most of you couldn't care less about what I have to say on this topic. Yet, you'd probably like to hear my exam advice. So—LET'S MAKE A DEAL. That's the catch.

I'll tell you what you need to know in order to write the best possible exams if you lend an ear to my account of capitalism. This book will be our "deal". My pledge: you get advice that is almost certain to raise your grades in virtually any subject area. My price: I get to harangue you—lightly, nothing that draws blood, not yours anyway—about what really concerns me. Okay? Except, since I know that many students cheat if given half the chance, I've not been so foolish as to divide the material by chapter. Instead, what you really want to hear is thoroughly mixed with up what I really want to tell you. Exam hints will appear at the start, in the middle and at the end of pages devoted to political expose, and nothing in the style or size of print will offer a clue as to what's what. The book is organized rather like a fruit and nut cake, and to get at the fruit you've got to eat the nuts.

"Unfair!", you holler. That's right. The best thing you have going for you is the raw nerve that tells you when something isn't fair. It's also the best thing going for us, since we are all part of the same society. Well, what is and isn't fair, why it isn't, and what can be done about it is just what I want to talk to you about. And if I have to be a little unfair myself in order to get your attention, so be it.

In what follows, then, exam hints and political facts and ideas play off one another like contrasting themes in a musical fugue, with intermissions—marked by Roman numerals—called only when I think you need a break. Still, as in Bach's fugues, there is a slow build-up, an eventual mingling of themes, and a final crescendo. You may be in for a bumpy beginning, but let yourself go with the rhythm, and you'll learn how to dance to it soon enough.