Sunday, December 3, 2006
I went ahead and tried the exam-writing sprints Krista recommended. The questions I'll be answering on Thursday, during a pair of three-hour sittings, are only approximations. The exist in partially remembered shreds from recent conversations rather than definitely, I mean, in writing. I've selected and assembled and condensed notes accordingly, committing to probable answers and probable organizations while figuring that I can bend the questions just enough to match with the answers I'm best prepared to write.
About the sprints: I wrote against the timer on my watch for exactly one hour late last night (heh, the wild lifestyle of an academic Saturday night in early December!) and did the same for the second question's area just before noon today. Granted, the writing I'll do on Thursday will be split into two-three hour sessions, but a one-hour sprint was definitely useful for giving me a sense of what I can say, how swiftly and precisely I can get to my claims, and how much evidence I can draw from my notes, memories of the stuff I read, and so on. I definitely recommend it (not to everyone, only future examinees). It's worthwhile for exactly the reasons Krista said it would be.
In one hour last night, I drummed out 1,388 words or the equivalent of just more than four pages. I went to sleep thinking that the pace and quantity were in a satisfactory range, but I was less sure about the coherence of the answers. I printed and read it this morning, giving some careful thought to the setup. The writing is raw, rough in places, and it assumes a certain understanding of the occasion for the writing. I'm not entirely settled on whether the answers should be understood as companions to the questions or whether they stand independent from the questions (explaining themselves entirely, I mean). While this wasn't a disaster, neither was it an unqualified success. I should just leave it at that. Last night's sprint: eye-opening, reassuring, and surprisingly more coherent when I re-read it this morning than when I imagined it during my pre-sleep mind-wandering last night. Tangent: I dreamt of poker, of winning--on dumb luck--a pile of chips with a 7-J straight on the final draw. Wuh?
Late this morning, I read over the notes for exam approxiquestion two before walking Yoki through the neighborhood. Once I was home again, I set the timer for an hour and dashed out a wildstyle 1,574 words or, that is, roughly five pages. I'm organizing both answers similarly, and each sprint allowed me to write through the beginning section: a pronouncement about what I'll do (claim and motives) and a brief historical gloss. For this morning's answer, the gloss involved North, Fulkerson, Carlton (postdisciplinary formation), and Emig. Like I said, this is rapid-fire writing--a kind of shout-it-down with only a passing care for how it sounds, as concerned with beating the clock as with fine tuning the answer. Again, I was encouraged by the rate (worry: I'll be writing the exams on a strange computer). If I can dash through twelve pages in 2.5 hours, that'll leave a half hour for poaching the so-raw-they're-ghastly sections.
I haven't decided whether more sprints would be beneficial at this late date, and so I might spend the next couple of days tuning outlines, working the claims over in my head again and again. The sprints, as you might expect, sparked in me a fresh mania: will I be able to emulate the sprint? I'm half-kidding. I fully expect to be able to put together a happy string of sprints on Thursday, but I'm also ever-aware of the tiny variables that can too easily derail any high-stakes performance of timed writing.Posted by Derek Mueller at December 3, 2006 5:25 PM to Qualifying Exams