In law school it was hard to get As. In fact the law school *prided* itself on giving Bs. About halfway through law school, I asked the top student I’m the class above me, “What’s the secret to getting As?” I was stunned by what he said:

Get in the professor’s head. Regurgitate what the professor says and thinks on your test. Don’t prepare for the test by studying the textbook. Prepare by reading the last 5 law review articles the professor wrote. Use those principles and phrases in your test answers and you’ll get an A. The professors aren’t interested in knowing if you can think for yourself. They’re interested in knowing whether they’ve influenced you. 

I was skeptical, but I had nothing to lose. 

So when finals came around, I didn’t turn to my notes or textbooks. I read a lot of law review articles. I’ll tell you, I didn’t have a lot of confidence doing it, but again, I had nothing to lose.

I remember one test in particular given by one of the best constitutional scholars in the country. It was an open book test with only one question, and I had 8 hours to do it. I mean how hard could that be? But when I got the test, I couldn’t even understand what he was asking! How can you ace a test when you don’t even understand the question?!

After I overcame my panic attack, I started writing–paraphrasing the themes and concepts of the professor’s law review articles in answers that felt completely unrelated to the question asked. But it worked! I landed one of the highest grades not only in my class, but also on my transcript!

And I learned a valuable lesson that has served me well ever since. My success often depends on the extent I can understand how my supervisor/customer/team member thinks, restate their thoughts in my own words, and be influenced by them.