A few thoughts on exams and preparation

Posted: October 14, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

So in four days, I start my exams. I have two questions from each of three professors. The first two days will have two questions a piece, and the second two days will each have one. I won’t lie; I am both stressed and scared. But not as scared as I might have been.

It’s weird feeling prepared. Not because of the work I’ve been doing (I’ve done A LOT), but because a few months ago, this felt like something I could NEVER be fully prepared for. Now, within spitting distance of my questions, I find myself anxious to get started. It’s turned from this looming obelisk of terror into just one more hoop to jump through.

I do think I’ve learned a lot during this process. One thing I’ve learned is that I actually feel like I’m becoming an expert in the field. That’s never really happened before. I might have felt like an expert in one tiny part of it, but I always knew that anyone I talked to would list sources that I didn’t recognize.

But the other day, I was having lunch with a friend, and she mentioned a source that might be interesting for my project.

And I recognized it. Not only that, but I knew the theorists that person quoted, and knew what that person said. I didn’t have to fake it or anything; I just KNEW.

It makes sense; by my very rough calculations, between my 70 sources there are about 10,000 pages of research I’ve gone through in the past five months. But that feeling, which I’d never really had before, gave me a whole lot of confidence.

You know what else gives me confidence? This blog. Yes, the one you’re reading right now. You see, at home, I have three stacks of books and papers-one for each set of questions. The stacks are about a foot and a half high each, and that many books and papers has the not-unexpected effect of being terrifying. But I don’t need to be afraid of them, because I barely need to look at them. Only if there’s a point I remember but can’t find a quote for in this blog will I have to crack even a single cover.

That’s the point of this blog. Always has been. It’s my online memory, my thoughts and analysis of the sources I go through, complete with quotes that seemed relevant at the time. It’s all right here, just a few clicks away.

And, even better, it’s been practice. Every one of these posts has been about summarizing sources in my own words and analyzing the arguments therein – exactly what I’ll be doing for these exams (and, honestly, the rest of my life).

Today, I told a friend what was really going on with these exams. He’s a nursing student, and he works really hard. But when I explained how many papers I had to write, how long they had to be, and how quickly I was going to write them, the blood drained from his face. He looked terrified. He thought my exams were literal tests that I came in and took, some kind of standardized thing. The fact that I had to write 6 papers in 4 days seemed too much to even contemplate. And I can understand that. From the outside, it looks terrifying.

But I’ve had practice. I’ve written a paper in 24 hours before, and I learned that what I really did was just DRAFT in 24 hours. I didn’t research. That was done already. All I did was put my research together and solve the problem in the question. No big deal.

How much time do we really spend WRITING a paper, anyway? Most people would say it takes weeks, but if you separate out the distractions, the time wasting, the idle thinking, the research, the collecting quotes, and all that, it really comes down to about four or five hours of actual writing. In fact, that’s going to be SLOW. These papers are 10-12 pages each. If it takes me five hours to do one, that means it takes me an hour to do two pages. I doubt that’ll happen.

It’s not that I’m going to fly through them and do a half-assed job. It’s that I’ve already DONE most of the work. All that’s left is the draft.

I’ve written two ten page papers in one day before. It’s tiring, but it’s doable. And I wasn’t as prepared then as I am now.

So yeah, I’m still scared. But it’s amazing how confident I feel. I imagine that confidence will last until about five minutes after I get my first question. But when I panic, maybe I’ll look at this post and feel better.

Hey, me in the future: You’re going to do great. You know this stuff, and you CAN do it. Take a breath, shake out your hands, and go look at your outlines.

Sincerely, past me.

  1. Michelle WArdlow says:

    This is getting linked to facebook…..tooo good!

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