1. Square your marks – Butler’s Classics teacher gave tests out of 6 and then required students to ‘square’ their marks. This meant that a respectable four out of 16 only resulted in one receiving 16 out of 36 after squaring. The squaring motivated Butler to push for those two extra points.
2. Be clever, with an interest – Butler focused on modern languages, literature and history instead of Classics. He did so because he was told “be captivated by your subject”. His subsequent Cambridge First suggests it was a smart move.
3. If you must learn something, do it properly – When Butler learned French he forced himself to read Gautier, the French writer with the widest vocabulary. Each day Butler would write down new words encountered, rehearse them, and then recount them the next day. When Butler wanted to learn German, he moved to Austria.
4. Focus on your strengths – Butler made ‘seriousness’ a motif in his debating skills as a way of hiding his lack of humour. He later secured a position as President of the Cambridge Union. He used the same focus to pull off a First in History after planning in advance precisely how he would spend his entire final year. Even though Butler was gravely ill for one his finals exams he achieved top marks for the paper and was awarded a University Fellowship.
5. Don’t just learn from books – Classical smarts were important to Butler but he also realised it wasn’t everything. He would later remark that his policies for employment were more influenced by the sight of desperate men queuing day-after-day at the labour markets than it was by anything he read.