Bertell Ollman’s How to Take an Exam…And Remake the World: Marked Down 

By Alan Haskvitz 

After three readings of Bertell Ollman’s, How to Take an Exam…and Remake the World, I have come to the conclusion that this is an extended essay on political science and not really a book that offers significant insights into assessment. The few ideas brought into the mix about evaluation are interesting, but hardly worth the battle. 

Starting with the interesting title, which should draw the attention of all standardized test plagued administrators in the US of A,and if you can overlook a cover , designed by his son, Raoul Ollman, that should challenge the artistic, this book contains a series of opinions extracted from carefully chosen selections of works to offer readers a good dose of sardonic humor in the author’s quest to bring political thinking into more close alignment with his views. (Yes, the author uses this type of sentence structure.) 

Always seeking to be witty, Ollman best sums up the contents of his work by asking the reader to answer one question: “How many capitalists does it take to screw in a light bulb?” It is not that his one accepted answer is not clever, but it violates most of his beliefs. He offers you a grade, which, in a way, is a form of capitalism, a form of existence that in decries at length, and through the years, needs work. He dislikes the concept of grades because they obviously create classes of achievement. This process thus promotes an atmosphere of differences rather then togetherness. And, yet, he offers you either an F or a future of bliss on his “final.” 

As an objective, Ollman wants this book to be of value to helping young people improve their skills in remaking the world and taking an exam. I don’t know what Ollman meant by young people, but having taught every grade level and in several countries, I can only assume that he meant college students with SAT scores over 1200. 

He is not trying to hide his agenda from the reader, Indeed, he writes that in his 35 years as a professor he has acquired a great deal of “exam lore” and then adds,“ 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 tell you about capitalism, the system by which we produce and distribute the wealth of our society, but I suspect that most of you could care less about what I have to say on this topic. Yet, you’d probably like to hear my exam advice.” 

To get additional input, I wrote to a professor who recommended this book for an education class and was told by this New Yorker that it was done in the interest of broadening a student’s insights. She failed to elaborate further, but based on her recommendation I can safely say that it has value at the university level. 

Perhaps its Ollman’s self-serving sardonic sense of humor that keeps the reader from having access to a table of contents. Anyway, despite being chock full of interesting tidbits and cartoons,I found the real meat of his book difficult to dislodge from the a light typeface and capricious flow of data. For example, he explains that on essay exams it is best to take your time to get organized before starting to write in the first sentence of the paragraph. In the last sentence he tells you not to be too confined by the outline that you took time to establish.In the middle he states, “As someone—I can’t recall who—once remarked, writing is a ‘raid on the inarticulate’.” I believe that paragraph is typical of how Ollman organizes his insights. His style definitely requires your attention. 

The fact that Ollman’s book has been marked down to around by various Internet sellers from the suggested list price of $19.99 perhaps gives credence to Professor Ollman’s personal questioning of the capitalist system. 

Ollman must have had a great deal of fun writing this work and, with his reputation for poking holes in conservative philosophies, should draw readers looking for fodder to support their causes. In addition, if you want to challenge your students or yourself to an interesting read with the above caveat I would recommend it highly. If you are interested in improving test taking skills there are other resources that are better documented and better organized. 

ISBN 1-55164-171-2 (bound) 


1-55164-170-4 (paperback) 

Black Rose Books No. DD 293 

2250 Military Road 

Tonawanda, NY 14150


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