Sunday, November 26, 2006

Again with the Exams

Again, I'm engrossed in exam preparations. The latest phase consists of revolving shifts, a rotary of confidence and dread: waves of self-assured anticipation (I'll answer this way...), shudders of doubt (What if I forget, have a lousy day, etc.). I'm not quite all frazzled and manic with the process, but because it matters to me that I do well, because I want to write answers that my committee judges intelligible and even interesting, it's not as simple as just shrugging off the anxiety. And while I can't say that I've been here before, been toe to toe with PhD qualifying exams, that is, it does help to compare the stress of preparation to a certain nervousness I felt before basketball games many years ago. When I played poorly during those early years (as a freshman and sophomore), when I underachieved, Coach E. said I was "pressing": giving in to the compulsion to do too much and therefore perform all of it at a low level. The basketball solution boiled down to a simple principle (whose alternative--fitness!--was running sprints until collapse): do just three things well: box out, defend, go to the glass (different days, different trios: no turnovers, make FTs, bruise the post scorer without fouling). Keeping to just three simpler focal-metrics, the extras fell into place, usually just accumulating in stride, without deliberate effort. For qualifying exams, the correlation to pressing is jamming, working into an unproductive (st)illness (er...stylessness). Yet, of course, understanding that whatever induces anxiety (whether pressing or jamming) can best be resolved by shifting methods (have a plan/outline, keep it simple, the clock is an ally) certainly helps. Less than two weeks out, this is where I'm at as I try to forge a work-path between making too much of exams and making too little of them.

Rel: I woke up this morning with a low-on-caffeine headache and one workable claim in mind for one of the major exam questions (like K.'s sleep-writing or somnography). Not a bad trade-off, all in all. I noted the claim, adding it to the outline I'm tacking together and made a pot of coffee.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at November 26, 2006 10:15 PM to Qualifying Exams

One thing that worked well for me was doing timed writing sprints the weekend before I started examining. Two of my profs had negotiated questions, and I knew that any of them could be used in the 2-hour exams. So I sat down and did one-hour writing sprints for each of them. This let me see how far I could get without books or notes while still being able to crack into resources after I got stuck. The process blew a lot of false securities and insecurities out of the water, and it let me have a firm argumentative structure in mind when I went in.

And then there's always the sleep-writing.

But really, you’ll be fine, given the amount of prep you’ve already done. I didn’t believe people at all when they said that to me, but you’ll be surprised at what comes out of you when you actually write these. (Of course, this is all advice from someone who hasn't actually passed yet. Caveat lector.)

Posted by: Krista at November 27, 2006 9:36 AM

I like the idea of sprints to prepare. I think I'll attempt one or two of them before I sit the major exam next Thursday. Of course, the advantage of sleep-writing is that it doubles as a nap. Even when I wake up not having composed a thing, I'm well rested for the awake-writing.

I sure hope you're right about my prep being sufficient. At this point, I just want the exams behind me.

Posted by: Derek at November 27, 2006 11:56 AM

dude, you're gonna dominate!

BE-lieve dat.

and ps. as far as "just want[ing] the exams behind me": amen, brother! amen.

Posted by: chris at November 29, 2006 12:36 AM

You'll be fine. You know you'll be fine. I'll be rooting for you from the caffnographic environs of my kitchen/writing space.

Posted by: joanna at December 1, 2006 12:42 PM

Thanks for the vote of confidence, Chris. I hope you're right. But whether or not I dominate the exams, I'd be relieved just to learn of a pass.

I'm not going completely caffeine free before exams, just trying to scale back a bit (so I can sleep). But yes, enjoy your coffee, have a good end of semester, and cross your fingers for me. I probably won't know the results until late January, but I should be back to much-relieved blogging by late Dec.

Posted by: Derek at December 1, 2006 5:37 PM

You'll do just great! I'll be rooting for you, too. :-)

Posted by: Billie at December 3, 2006 7:48 PM