My Big Exam (Part 1)

If you’ve been reading the education (or fatherhood blog) for a while you will be aware of my summer of reading in preparation for my doctoral qualifying exams. This series of testing after the classes have been taken and passed is a difficult and painful experience as a student (and also as a father). It is certainly difficult to explain the mental and emotional states that exist during a preparation for exams that takes into account all one is supposed to have learned in a graduate program. The test itself is massive in scope but the questions asked are specific (generally not general). The exam also determines whether or not the student will have the opportunity to obtain the degree they have spent a number of years seeking.

Part 1 of the exam is broken over two days. Each of the two consecutive days is spent in a small cubicle-like thing with an internet-less word processor under video and audio surveylance for four hours of question answering without texts or notes. Intimidating to be sure. There was a hiccup on our first day (there were two other doctoral students taking the exams that day) leaving us starting an hour later than scheduled. Not the biggest of deals but certainly offputting to some part of the mind that was ready to begin early. Despite the late start there was one lesson during the exams: time management.

I’ve written about time management (or my lack thereof) before but there is simply no option when you are expected to compress four semesters worth of knowledge into four hours worth of typing. The typing is certainly better than handwriting but I got a blister on my “spacebar thumb” somewhere in my 25ish pages of writing on day 1. The important thing was to keep on track and keep typing and keep thinking and if you were taking too long on a question you needed to wrap it up quickly and move onto the next one. Here is what I wish: I wish I’d taken the time to write detailed synopses of all the things I’d read the first time I read them. Word to the wise — start doing that now (and you won’t regret it later like I did).

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