IN JOHN STEINBECK'S East of Eden, the evil brother gives some sage advice about excelling in school. The first week of class, says swarthy Charles, do all the reading, all the homework, and raise your hand a lot. This will give the impression that you're a brainiac goody-two-shoes like Charles' wussy brother, Adam. The second week, do none of the reading, but raise your hand all the time. The teacher won't call on you, but he or she will think you're an overachiever. From the third week on, keep quiet and never raise your hand. You'll have created the perfect portrait of a hardworking student who is also modest and wise.

This segues perfectly into my advice for students trying to appear smarter than they are: Begin all conversations with a reference to John Steinbeck's East of Eden (which, honestly, you should read. It's like a million pages long, but at least 500,000 of them are about whores, so it's a quick read [corollary advice: If you hate to read, jump in by reading books that are primarily about sex]).

In addition to East of Eden, you only need to understand a couple key concepts that you can twist any conversation around to discuss. The first of these is "social construct." I don't have space to go into the specifics here, but all you need to know is that everything is a social construct—including gender, sex, America, swarthy Charles, the dining hall's attempt at California rolls, money, and crime. The only thing that is not a social construct is the Filet-O-Fish, which will always be a Filet-O-Fish in this and all other times. Pepper your social construct and East of Eden conversations with some anecdotes about your parents and privilege and badda bing! You're valedictorian! Of the beer pong club.