A Guide to Princeton Precept Etiquette

As you begin your first semester here at Princeton, you’ll be introduced to a type of class known as the “precept.” You’re probably wondering what exactly a “precept” is. Well, it’s actually very similar to a discussion section. Now you’re probably thinking “Then why not just call it a discussion section? Won’t telling my friends back home about my ‘precepts’ make me sound like a pretentious ass?” But there’s a clear distinction between the two: a discussion section is a small group of students in a large lecture class that meets to talk about key points in the curriculum, while a precept is a group of students that meets to talk about key points in the curriculum and is a small section of a large lecture class. And to acquire those coveted precept participation grades, you’re going to need to learn how to hold your own in the classroom. So without further ado, here are the four basic tenets of precept etiquette that you need to follow to get that A+ you promised your mom.

Make a good first impression

Illustrated by TC ’17 and CSO ’15.

The first thing you need to know about precept is that it’s like prison: you need to dominate one of your classmates on the first day to make the others respect and fear you. They are animals and will turn on you like a swarm of piranhas if you show the slightest sign of weakness. You’ll want to target one of the more feeble students, one with glasses and a name like Leonard or Wendell. Ideally, as everyone is getting settled, grab the poindexter of your choosing by the lapel and throw them against the nearest wall or table. Slap him/her around a little, just enough to get the point across, then slowly make eye contact with everyone in the class. You should have their undivided attention. Now you’ll announce yourself with a forceful yet witty one-liner like “and THAT’S why you don’t mess with the Zohan” or “Looks like it’s a good day…to die hard.” Pull off that introduction and you’ll have your classmates quivering in fear before you.

Illustrated by TC ’17 and CSO ’15.

Never do the reading

Let’s face it: none of your peers are going to do any of the assigned reading for the entire semester, so why should you? The key to a passing precept grade is 1 percent preparation, 1 percent  participation, and 98 percent  the preceptor thinking you’re chill. If you come off as a nerd and start “citing” the “text” you were supposed to “read,” not only will you end up like Wendell with your lapels in the grasp of a more competent student, but you’ll also seem like a wiener before your almighty preceptor. Instead of spewing recycled BS from some stuffy old textbook, make up your own analysis of class material. It doesn’t even need to be on-topic; simply reciting lines from Pulp Fiction is often enough to bag an A.

Always have the last word

Among the worst things you can do in precept is conceding the fact that you may not always be right. If one of your classmates or even your preceptor contests a point you’ve made, never accept that they may have a legitimate objection. Instead, offer a witty retort or saucy zinger in response. Potential comebacks include yelling “No, your MOM has a fundamentally unsound interpretation of Nietzsche’s moral philosophy” or exclaiming “you can miscalculate these, professor,” as you leap upon the table and reveal your genitalia.

End on a high note

This may seem obvious, but it’s advisable to end every precept on a high note. Begin by singing a heroic ballad in praise of your preceptor’s acts of courage during the day’s class, followed by a diss rap denouncing the weak minds and flimsy arms of your classmate-detractors. For the grand finale, perform a series of Freddie Mer-cury-esque stage theatrics, ripping off your shirt and belting out a few key points touched upon during the discussion. End by crooning your own name in a piercing falsetto that makes your classmates think “man…the kid’s got moxie,” stirring a mix of admiration and envy deep within their hearts.

And that’s really all there is to it. Refuse to take guff from anyone (especially your preceptor) and assert yourself at every opportunity and you’ll be on the fast track to win not just an A, but the hearts and minds of your classmates as well.

— MWG ’16

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