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
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.