On Monday January the 6th, I’ll be sitting for my doctoral comprehensive exam (aka comps). For those of you unfamiliar with this milestone, it is what separates the Ph.D. students from the Ph.D. candidates. While faculty recommend that students take an entire semester preparing for the exam and to consider it as a regular three credit course, I decided to designate my inter-semester winter break as “comps study time”. This left me with about three weeks of prep time.
On Monday January the 6th at 8am, I will be emailed a set of three essay questions: two common questions (each with a choice of two – and I’ll need to pick one) and one specialization question written just for me. And so it will begin… I will have until Wednesday January the 8 (at 5 pm) to submit my responses: roughly, a total number of 32 pages (double spaced in case you’re wondering) or an equivalent of 13,000 words (again, in case you’re wondering, not including references).
And what better time to reflect on the past three weeks of preparation than the weekend before my exam?
Floating around was a “Comps” folder – passed down from student to student and naturally it made its way to me. The folder was a mess of files within folders within badly-named folders. Being the Type A that I am, I just had to organize it. That was the first step I made in preparing for my exam. The folder was a conglomerate of articles, reading lists, notes, and past questions; however it had no inherent hierarchy. As such, I spent the better half of a weekend putting it in order, deleting doubles, developing a complete and outlined reference list: creating a structured environment in which I can comfortably navigate. Since it was “an open book exam” – for me, it was key that I know exactly where everything and anything is located. From that process, important exam themes were revealed.
My next step was to identify the themes that I lacked a strong conceptual understanding of and read the seminal articles in those areas. I decided to stay clear from the old adage of “what you don’t know won’t hurt you”. I needed to be well informed. So I read and took notes. Another piece of advice: take handwritten notes.
Then what? At that point, I realized that I can never be too well informed. I realized that there is virtually no end point. I was spending my time reading chapters, skimming articles, taking down notes, annotating text, highlighting documents, revisiting class notes. I realized that there will not come a time where I can close a proverbial book and tell myself that I am done studying. At that point, I decided to make the process a little bit easier on myself and I quite simply bought a book… A handbook to be exact: The Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology. The Handbook of Mobile Learning I bought months ago proved to be super useful, so I thought why not add another handbook to the collection? Two weeks later, I can confidently say that I extremely happy with my decision.
It’s been a couple of weeks of diving in a sea of educational research; however, don’t forget to come up for air every once in while. Despite the stress that accompanies this major program milestone, I found myself making the time to do things I enjoy but typically can’t find the time for. So invest in a video game, immerse yourself in a fictional novel, or find a new old show to watch. Find the time to make this a fun experience.