Taking The Exam

You’ve picked your fields, made your list, and read (most of) the things.

Now it’s time to actually take the exams. Taking the exams is going to be different depending on your program. In my program students had three exam questions issued over three days. The questions were sent by email and the student had 24 hours to type a 10-15 page response and email it back to the committee. Questions were sent Monday, Wednesday, and Friday with the oral examination the following Monday. The exams could be taken from anywhere and I completed mine from my home.

Another program I know has a major field and two minor fields. Students are given a week to answer the question in their major field and are expected to produce something about the length of a seminar paper (18-25 pages of text). Minor fields take 3 days and produce a shorter paper (10-15 pages).

Yet another program I know has everyone take prelim exams at the same time. Exams take three days and students must be on campus, in an isolated room, when writing. They are only allowed to write during business hours and cannot work on their questions when at home.

These are just a few of many, many variations on how different programs do prelims. Because of the variation, it’s not feasible to give one-size-fits-all advice about how to actually write your exams. However, it is possible to give some advice on how to survive your exams which is what this post is about.

Hey There! I’m so happy you found this post! In the first year of abd2phd, I did a month long blog series on how to survive your prelims. Since then, I’ve updated this advice with what I’ve learned from clients and what I’ve learned about executive function. I created a series of worksheets to cover everything from your prelim timeline to assignments you could give your students if you have to teach during your prelims. I’ve put that all together in one place for your convenience. You can buy it here.

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