I have done two of my doctoral qualifying exams now - one to go. I still have no idea what I wrote, whether it is all trivial or if I actually said something. I AM glad that I wrote stuff, if nothing else it shows that I read something and remember something about what I read, even if my arguments are halting and inconsistent.
I am learning lots of things and want to put together a how to thing, with the things I wish I had had when I started.
I want to put in things like:
- Thinking about your fields. How to define your fields and how to add subcategories of issues.
- Think about how to put together the reading lists - start reading early, at least the first chapter or introduction, and get the names they refer to and the debates they argue about. If there are any short survey texts with a bibliography, get those early and get the lay of the land and the main texts.
- Taking notes - do a 1-2 page summary of the main points of the argument (what is the thesis, what other writers do they position themselves against, do they say anything particularly clever or stupid). If you have your books organised into subcategories you can add a section on what they say about or how they relate to your subcategory.
As you get near - review your notes, make up questions and pieces of answers. Make up a template for your answers and put each respective reading list at the end of its respective document.
- Make sure you have the texts available. Make sure you have comfort food and drink and candy or whatever else available. Make sure you have a backup computer. Print out a copy of the reading list so you can mark off the texts as you use them.
- When you get the questions, look at both for a while and think about which one you want to answer. Consider what you would say and what books you would use to answer the questions.
When you have decided on the question and the books, unless you know what your argument is going to be, look at your notes for those texts (or underlines if you never made notes). Write down what comes to you, then see if you have a tentative outline.
- Write like a demon. Stop every now and then to check grammar and spelling and to remind yourself where you are. Stop for food and sleep and some other short breaks. You NEED to get up, even if just to stretch.
That is all I can think of right now. We will find out Tuesday and finally on November 3 if it worked. I sure hope so.