Cold Calling Survival Tips

Scared woman at being cold called in class

Cold calling is a technique used by professors to randomly call on students during class and ask them questions about the assigned reading. Though fear is not the best motivator, it does remain an effective tool in the teacher’s arsenal. Questions can deal with assigned cases, including the facts, procedure, policy, law, or the dissenting opinions. Professors also might ask hypothetical questions, forcing you to apply new facts to the law you are learning.  Here is an article on the pros and cons of cold calling.

Reasons for Cold Calling

There are several rationales for cold calling. First is the rarely used boot camp approach. This is when the professor’s sole purpose is to keep asking you questions until you get a question wrong. As in boot camp, the professor will destroy you so that you can be rebuilt.

Second, cold calling is a means to ensure that you have read the material. This type of professor may call on many people during each class and ask each student a question or two.

Third, a professor might want to keep everyone engaged, so they ask questions to ensure that everyone has a chance to talk.

Fourth, some professors take a more practical, skills-based approach, asking questions so that you get used to thinking on your feet—a skill that will help you in the courtroom.

Cold Calling Survival Tips

Large courtroom to illustrate need for cold calling skillsLet’s move on to some tips you can use to survive the cold call.

Tip 1

One, be prepared. This means reading the assigned materials and preparing a short case brief. But make sure you prepare the right kind of case brief as I describe in my episode on “How to Brief a Case.”

Tip 2

Two, if you don’t understand the question, ask the professor to rephrase the question. Sometimes the professor asks the question in a way that just doesn’t make sense. Also, if the question is confusing, you can rephrase it and verify that is what the professor is looking for.

Tip 3

Three, if the professor starts to move to another student before you’ve answered the question, tell the professor that you are prepared but you just need another minute to think about it.

Tip 4

Four, act with confidence. Students that fumble around and act like they are not prepared, even when they are, will be perceived as not being prepared. Also the professor is likely to give the confident student the benefit of the doubt when you provide a wrong or so-so answer.

Tip 5

Five, relax and trust yourself. Many students crash and burn because they are nervous. I’ve had dozens of students come to me after class, telling me that they knew the answers but were afraid to answer the question for fear of getting it wrong. It is better to go down in flames than to never have tried at all.

Tip 6

Six, show your professor respect, as professors tend to have huge egos. When I was a student, I was in class with an older student who had real-life experience in the area we were covering. The student told the professor that a question he had just asked was stupid and it would never happen in the real world. The professor got furious, and I thought there was going to be a fist fight. If you show disrespect, you may find the professor asking questions designed to humiliate you.

Tip 7

Seven, stay on target. By this I mean answer the question you were asked and don’t go off on any rabbit trails.

And finally, admit when you are not prepared. When a student can’t answer my question, I ask them more questions to determine if they are unprepared. This may go on for a few minutes, which can be painful for everyone in the class, including you. By the way, some professors will keep asking questions as a way to humiliate the unprepared student. Take your medicine, move on.


Consequences for not being prepared can include shaming, being marked absent, a lower course grade, being thrown out of class, humiliation, and continued cold calling by the professor throughout the semester. If there is a grade reduction possibility, that should be posted in the syllabus.

If you need help with cold calling, our tutors are available to help.

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Surviving the Cold Call