Richard Lochhead, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, found himself searching for answers as a panellist on BBC2's University Challenge, where in a special Christmas edition of the popular quiz show he represented his alma mater Stirling University with other high-profile alumni.
Host Jeremy Paxman delivered the questions in his usual brusque manner and was quick to deride those who did not know the correct answers.
Mr Lochhead, 44, who has an honours degree in political studies, was joined by director of the Scottish Daily Newspaper Society John McLellan, government chief scientific advisor Muffy Calder, and Paul Lewis, presenter of Radio 4's Money Box, to pit their wits against a graduate team from St Hugh's, Oxford.
They were Dame Liz Forgan, chair of the Bristol Old Vic; Suzy Klein, writer and radio presenter; Alex Hibbert, polar expedition leader; and Rowan Pelling, the columnist and broadcaster.
Although he is not allowed to divulge the questions or the outcome of the quiz, Mr Lochhead said: "It was a real surprise to get a call inviting me to take part in University Challenge and I did think I might be in for a little public humiliation. I was pretty relaxed until we were in the room watching the match before us on a screen. I sat there wishing for a few moments I was somewhere else. That was the most nerve-wracking moment, given that I was struggling to answer their questions.
"In the run-up to the recording, I did wonder why I hadn't spent more time learning about science, classical history and High Renaissance Art.
"My preparation was limited to reading Andrew Marr's History of the World, which rekindled my interest in world history given my reading is usually limited to 20th century history. However, that didn't help me one iota on the day.
"Other books I'd put aside to read were never even opened due to being so busy at work - it was the launch of the Independence White Paper.
"It was rather surreal being grilled by James Naughtie on the radio earlier in the week and then being questioned by Jeremy Paxman at the other end."
Mr Lochhead has a keen interest in history and popular music and hoped for at least one question in these categories so that he could make a positive contribution to his team's effort.
"As anyone who has watched the show will know, the questions are unbelievably tough. I don't think I embarrassed myself too much, but I doubt I'll be getting nicknamed Einstein."
Mr McLelland revealed he has no specialist subject and did not do any special preparation. "How do you bone up on general knowledge? Where would you start? You could drive yourself mad trying to second-guess the questions you might get."
Mr Lochhead's appearance fee will be donated to a children's charity in his Moray constituency.
l Christmas University Challenge is shown on BBC2 at 7.30pm on Thursday, December 27.