Reading Passage 12 – Rimmer’s Study Strategies

Keywords: Year 7+, fiction, 10 MCQs, 2 short answer questions, 12 questions overall, late 20th century literature, science-fiction, humour, British, 4 pages.

Recommended time: 20 minutes.

(Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers, Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, 1989, pages 62-65.)

‘My  boys,’ his  mother  would  say, ‘my  clever,  clever  boys. Johnny  the  Captain,  Frankie  the  First  Officer,  Howie  the  Test Pilot, and Arnold…Arnold, the chicken soup machine cleaner. If you could sue sperm, I’d sue the sperm that made you.’

‘I’ll do it, Mother. One day, I will become an officer.’

‘And  on  that  day,’ his  mother  would  say,  ‘Satan  will  be going to work in a snow plough.’

If  Rimmer  hadn’t  been  such  a  dedicated  anal  retentive,  he would  have  realised  the  simple  truth:  he  wasn’t  cut  out  for Space. He wasn’t cut out for it. He would have realised he wasn’t the slightest bit interested in  astronavigation.  Or  quantum  mechanics.  Or  any  of  the things  he  needed  to  be  interested  in  to  pass  the  exams  and become an officer.

Three  times  he’d  failed  the  entrance  exam  to  the  Academy. And   so,   one   night   after   reading   the   life   story  of   Horatio Nelson,  he’d  signed  up  with  a  merchant  vessel  as  a  lowly Third Technician,   with the object of   quickly   working   his way  through  the  ranks  and  sitting  the  astronavigation  exam independently,  and  thereby  earning  his  commission:  the  glimmering gold bar of officerhood.

That  had  been  six  years  ago.  Six  long  years  on Red  Dwarf, during  which  he’d  leapt  from  being  a  lowly  Third  Technician to   being   a   lowly   First   Technician.   In   the   meantime,   his brothers  went  for  ever  onward,  up  the  ziggurat  of  command. Their  success  filled  him  with  such  bitterness,  such  bile,  that  even  a  Christmas  card  from  one  of  them  –  just  the  reminder that  they  were  alive,  and successful –  would  reduce  him  to tears of jealousy.

And now he sat there, under the pink glow of his student’s table lamp (‘Reduces  eye-strain! Promotes concentration! Aids retention!’  was  the  lamp  manufacturer’s  proud  boast), preparing to sit the astronavigation  exam  for  the  thirteenth time.

He  found  the  process  of  revising so  gruellingly  unpleasant,  so  galling,  so  noxious,  that,  like  most  people  faced  with  tasks they  find  hateful,  he  devised  more  and  more  elaborate  ways of not doing it in a ‘doing it’ kind of way. In  fact,  it  was  now  possible  for  Rimmer  to  revise  solidly for three months and not learn anything at all.

The  first  week  of  study,  he  would  always  devote  to  the construction  of  a  revision  timetable.  At  school  Rimmer  was always  at  his  happiest  colouring  in  geography  maps:  under his  loving  hand,  the  ice-fields  of  Europa  would  be  shaded  a delicate  blue,  the  subterranean  silica  deposits  of  Ganymede would  be  rendered,  centimetre  by  painstaking  centimetre,  a bright  and  powerful  yellow,  and  the  regions  of  frozen  methane  on  Pluto  slowly became  a  luscious,  inviting  green.  Up until the age of thirteen, he was constantly head of the class in geography.  After  this  point,  it  became  necessary  to  know  and understand  the  subject,  and  Rimmer’s  marks  plunged  to  the murky depths of ‘F’ for fail.

He  brought  his  love  of  cartography  to  the  making  of revision  timetables. Weeks  of  patient  effort  would  be  spent planning,  designing  and  creating  a  revision  schedule  which, when finished, were minor works of art. Every  hour  of  every  day  was  subdivided  into  different study  periods,  each  labelled  in  his  lovely,  tiny  copperplate hand;  then  painted  over  in  watercolours,  a  different  colour for  each  subject,  the  colours  gradually  becoming  bolder  and more  urgent  shades  as  the  exam  time  approached.  The  effect was  as  if  a  myriad  tiny  rainbows  had  splintered  and  sprinkled across the poster-sized sheet of creamwove card.

The  only  problem  was  this:  because  the  timetables  often  took  seven  or  eight  weeks,  and  sometimes  more,  to  complete,  by  the  time  Rimmer  had  finished  them  the  exam  was  almost on  him.  He’d  then  have  to  cram  three  months  of  astronavigation  revision  into  a  single  week.  Gripped  by  an  almost deranging  panic,  he’d  then  decide  to  sacrifice  the  first  two days  of  that  final  week  to  the  making  of  another  timetable. This  time  for  someone  who  had  to  pack  three  months  of revision into five days.

Because  five  days  now  had  to  accommodate  three  months’ work,  the  first  thing  that  had  to  go  was  sleep.  To  prepare  for an  unrelenting  twenty-four  hours  a  day  sleep-free  schedule, Rimmer  would  spend  the  whole  of  the  first  remaining  day  in  bed  –  to  be  extra,  ultra-fresh,  so  he  would  be  able  to  squeeze three whole months of revision into four short days.

Within  an  hour  of  getting  up  the  next  morning,  he  would feel  inexplicably  exhausted,  and  start  early  on  his  supply  of Go-Double-Plus  caffeine  tablets.  By  lunchtime  he’d  overdose, and  have  to  make  the  journey  down  to  the  ship’s  medical unit  for  a  sedative  to  help  him  calm  down.  The  sedative usually  sent  him  off  to  sleep,  and  he’d  wake  up  the  following morning  with  only  three  days  left,  and  an  anxiety  that  was  so crippling  he  could  scarcely  move.  A  month  of  revision  to  be crammed into each day.

At  this  point  he  would  start  smoking.  A  lifelong  non-smoker,   he’d become   a   forty-a-day   man.   He’d   spend   the whole  day  pacing  up  and  down  his  room,  smoking  three  or four  cigarettes  at  a  time,  stopping  occasionally  to  stare  at  the titles  in  his  bookcase,  not  knowing  which  one  to  read  first, and    popping    twice    the    recommended    dosage    of    dog-worming  tablets,  which  he  erroneously  believed  to  contain amphetamine.

Realising  he  was  getting  nowhere,  he’d  try  to  get  rid  of his  soul-bending  tension  by  treating  himself  to  an  evening  in one  of Red  Dwarf’s  quieter  bars.  There  he  would  sit,  in  the plastic  oak-beamed  ‘Happy  Astro’  pub,  nursing  a  small  beer, grimly   trying   to   be   light-hearted   and   totally   relaxed.   Two small  beers  and  three  hours  of  stomach-knotting  relaxation later,  he  would  go  back  to  his  bunk  and  spend  half  the  night awake,  praying  to  a  God  he  didn’t  believe  in  for  a  miracle that couldn’t happen.

Two   days   to   go,   and   ravaged   by   the   combination   of anxiety,  nicotine,  caffeine  tablets,  alcohol  he  wasn’t  used  to, dog-worming  pills,  and  overall  exhaustion,  he  would  sleep  in till mid-afternoon. After  a  long  scream,  he  would  rationalize  that  the  day  was a  total  write-off,  and  the  rest  of  the  afternoon  would  be  spent shopping  for  the  three  best  alarm  clocks  money  could  buy. This  would  often  take  five  or  six  hours,  and  he  would  arrive back  at  his  sleeping  quarters  exhausted,  but  knowing  he  was fully prepared for the final day’s revision before his exam.

Waking  at  four-thirty  in  the  morning,  after  exercising, showering  and  breakfasting,  he  would  sit  down  to  prepare  a  final,  final  revision timetable,  which  would  condense  three months  of  revision  into  twelve  short  hours.  This  done,  he  would  give  up  and  go  back  to  bed.  Maybe  he  didn’t  know  a  single  thing  about  astronavigation,  but  at  least  he’d  be  fresh for the exam the next day.

Which is why Rimmer failed exams.

Which  is  why  he’d  received  nine  ‘F’s  for  fail  and  two  ‘X’s for  unclassified.  The  first  ‘X’  he’d  achieved  when  he’d  actually managed  to  get  hold  of  some  real  amphetamines,  gone  into spasm  and  collapsed  two  minutes  into  the  exam;  and  the second  when   anxiety   got  so   much  the  better   of   him   his subconscious  forced  him  to  deny  his  own  existence,  and  he had  written  ‘I  am  a  fish’  five  hundred  times  on  every  single answer  sheet.  He’d  even  gone  out  for  extra  paper.  What  was  more   shocking   than   anything   was   that  he’d   thought   he’d done quite well.

Well,  this  time  it  was  going  to  be  different,  he  thought,  as he  sat carefully  colouring  all  the  quantum  mechanics  revision periods  in  diagonal  lines  of  Prussian  blue  on  a  yellow  ochre background.


  1. What is the main character’s real name?

a) Red Dwarf

b) Rimmer

c) Arnold

d) Horatio Nelson

2. What would best describe Rimmer as a character?

a) Comedic and delusional

b) Determined and healthy

c) Calm and level-headed

d) Focused and cunning

3. Based on this passage, what is Rimmer’s best talent?

a) Astrophysics

b) Colouring in

c) Leadership

d) Studying

4. Which of these statements is false?

a) Rimmer failed the entrance exam 3 times

b) Rimmer usually doesn’t smoke

c) As a teenager, Rimmer used to gain really high marks in Geography

d) Rimmer has two brothers that appear more successful than him

5. Which of these statements best defines ‘ziggurat’?

a) A sense of success

b) A figurative or literal tower

c) Jealousy

d) Astronavigation

6. “Rimmer’s  marks  plunged  to  the murky depths of ‘F’ for fail.” This is an example of:

a) Figurative language

b) Metaphor

c) Descriptive language

d) All of the above

7. Which of these is an example of parenthetical information represented by em-dashes?

a) “…and  thereby  earning  his  commission:  the  glimmering gold bar of officerhood.”

b) “There  he  would  sit,  in  the plastic  oak-beamed  ‘Happy  Astro’  pub,  nursing  a  small  beer…”

c) “…his student’s table lamp (‘Reduces  eye-strain! Promotes concentration! Aids retention!’  was  the  lamp  manufacturer’s  proud  boast), preparing to sit the astronavigation  exam…”

d) “…even  a  Christmas  card  from  one  of  them  –  just  the  reminder that  they  were  alive,  and successful –  would  reduce  him  to tears of jealousy.”

8. Rimmer’s mother feels  _______ because __________.

a) Ecstatic, Rimmer will never achieve anything significant with his life.

b) Irritated, Rimmer isn’t as successful as his brothers.

c) Disappointed, Rimmer’s brothers are chicken soup machine cleaners.

d) Exasperated, Rimmer cannot study properly.

9. “The  effect was  as  if  a  myriad  tiny  rainbows  had  splintered  and  sprinkled across the poster-sized sheet of creamwove card.” Which of these statements can replace that sentence without losing the original meaning?

a) Rimmer’s colouring made the timetable seem as though innumerable mini rainbows had split and sprinkled all over the poster-sized, cream-woven card.

b) Tiny rainbows spread over the cream card as Rimmer gazed at its effects.

c) There was an effect on the creamwove card: little rainbows danced across the poster.

d) The creamwove card was split and sprinkled by a little rainbow.

10. Did Rimmer utilize any effective and healthy study strategies?

a) Yes, like when he drew a detailed study timetable that took seven to eight weeks to complete.

b) Yes, like when he slept all day to make sure he had enough energy to study for a few days straight.

c) Yes, like when he shopped for alarm clocks to make sure he woke up on time.

d) No, all of his study strategies were ineffective and unhealthy.

11. Do you think Rimmer will pass his next exam? Why or why not? Use evidence from the text, such as quotes.

12. What do you think Rimmer should do next in his life? Should he continue his pursuit of ‘officerhood’ or do something else? Why?

Check your answers here!

Note: This passage is from Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor (1989). To my knowledge, utilising this passage as a free educational exercise falls under fair use. If not, please let me know. I want to make sure that everything on this website is fair and right. The questions are of my own creation.


A teaching student whose goal is to become a primary-school teacher! I'm currently working as an English tutor to almost 100 students (they're all wonderful!).

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