Saturday, March 9, 2013

Post comps report: Tips on how to take a take-home exam

So I am now done with the written comprehensive examination and have gotten a positive result. So I am now relieve and free to offer my take on the things that worked for me and some tips that I feel are useful for comprehensive reading examinations in particular and taking take-home exams in general:

1) Save the printing for your draft papers and not online journal articles.

Read the journal articles online and make notes in your note book. In retrospect, you do not know fully what you will actually use to answer the exam questions. Connections and things that you might see as being important while reading may actually not be relevant when you do your writing.

In addition, it is what you take away from the article in your mind that counts. Making jottings only help to aid that process of reminding yourself of what you read and discovered. So just save the money (although it might be consumed by purchasing more notebooks).

Plus when you are done, you have a bunch of marked up printed journal articles that you have to dispose of or recycle or store. (I'd rather keep the notebooks).

2) When you get the question, answer it in point form first, then go to the computer to have free-flow writing of what you think is relevant to the question.

I found this useful. However sometimes it also works the other way around. Sometimes you do not know what you want to say in response to the question and may have to free-flow first and then make sense of the jumbled ideas that you put down. Hence this process could be an iterative process.

You write, then outline, then rewrite, then outline
or outline, then write, outline then re-write

Further, if the question comes in parts, sometimes you do not have to answer all the parts the same day. Answer what you can immediately and leave the parts that you need to think about more for some other time.

3) Print out drafts as soon as you are complete.

This can help you to look it over and carry out the outline process to better organise your ideas and the flow. In addition, it can help you to spot errors freshly as well as things that you might need to do in order to improve the paper.

Printed drafts are also portable, so you can take it to the library and hunt down that book for a complete reference or page number (if not online via Google Books or through your library). You can also take it anywhere with you, including while you are having a snack or lunch, and can with a pen mark up and make notes on the document/paper.

4) Multi-task

It is better to finish all questions equally well (especially if failing one can cause you to fail the entire exam). DO NOT risk completing some questions before the deadline and have one/others incomplete or poorly done. It is better to submit barely pass work for all than to have some well done and some poorly done.

5) Finally, plan and manage your time and resources

Part of the hidden work of exams include making decisions and contemplating and executing strategy. One has to decide what source to include and which to exclude. One has to decide which question to work on first and which one to tackle last. One has to decide where to go to work, what resources to use etc. and make alternate plans in case things do not work out.

I recognise that I valued big flat Screen PCs for my writing to my little laptop screen. I found that I love to put my word documents on 200% zoom with large print to analyse. As such, I preferred to use the resources of a particular lab. This involved planning as sometimes the lab has classes. So one has to look at the schedule and plan one's work to coincide with the availability of the lab.

I also found that sometimes you have to make decisions on the spur of the moment and make changes to you plans. Like I wasn't planning to get up early 5:30 in the morning to walk through the snow in dark of early morning to go to the lab to get work done. However, after finding that in the early morning, (like now) I could not sleep, as my mind is just thinking about the work that is to be done, I found it useful to just act and do it. The results were excellent, as at that time of the morn, I found no one at school, so there was no distraction.

I also found that I bought resources before I needed them and even bought resources such as index cards, which I never needed or used. I also make sure to put a lot of money on my print account in preparation for the volume of printing that I planned to do. Hence, you will find that a lot of your time is not only spent reading and writing, but also spent thinking about how to get something done and what you need in order to execute.

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