A Comps Contract with Myself

not-tonight-I'm-readingI’m studying for my comprehensive exams, which will hopefully take place in December <fingers crossed>. My area of concentration is Long Twentieth Century Multi-ethnic American Literature (1890-2010) and my special topic is Transnational Feminism, with an emphasis on girlhood.

I did my M.A. here and went with the exam option rather than a thesis, because I was advised that it would allow me to gain more of a breadth of knowledge that I could use in my Ph.D. Then I dramatically changed focuses, but I have no regrets. I actually have really fond memories of my Master’s exam. My chair was fabulous and when I got overly nervous early on, she told me that I needed to “take a chill pill” and look at the exam as a rare time in my education when a panel of experts are there to talk with me about what I want to talk about. In my exam, that turned out to be true for the most part. My devised field was about British and American girlhood, which meant I got to talk about Little Women and Anne Frank with women I really look up to. It was pretty cool.

As great as I felt during the exam, the months leading up to the defense were a disaster. Plus, in the ten days between my written exam and the oral defense, I barely slept 3 hours a night, started a relationship and my first Ph.D. class (which was awesome but so hard), and tried to train the dog to sleep in her kennel, not my bed at night. My comprehensive exams for my Ph.D. follow the same format as the M.A. exam, but I have far more works to master and the stakes are higher. I am determined to make the most of this process and to enjoy studying as much as I can. My exam areas are what I will be qualified to teach. I want to feel like I really know my stuff.

With my prior mistakes and my current ambitions in mind, I am laying out the following promises to myself for the months ahead:

  • I will not give up sleep.
  • I will not use retail therapy.
  • I will not leave the last 50 pages of every novel for the last week of reading.
  • I will write my notecard summaries biweekly, not all at the end.
  • I will not start a new relationship, diet, or degree.
  • I will not try to change the dog’s habits. She is fine.
  • I will take long walks to process what I’m learning.
  • I will cook my food and eat my vegetables.
  • I will exercise and do yoga.
  • I will listen to records and take dance breaks when my head feels full.
  • I will tell people “no” if I have to.
  • I will tell myself “no,” too.
  • If I can’t tell myself no, I will have Julio change the Netflix password.
  • I will switch to tea in the afternoon.
  • I will ask for help if I need it.
  • I will pass. I will pass. I will pass.

On the outside, I will be all:


But on the inside:

Time to get reading.

Periodically, I will be posting summaries and notes about the non-fiction books I’m reading under Rock the Exam. I also have a Pinterest board of things related to my exams and dealing with stress/anxiety.

If you’ve taken your comps, do you have any advice? If you’re studying for them now, what are your habits/techniques?

5 thoughts on “A Comps Contract with Myself

  1. I kept a blog as I was reading here:
    Not only did writing these summaries get me to focus my thinking, but they became really handing when writing my exam essays.

    Learning to say no is important. For my dissertation writing, I’ve put this quote from Fight Club on my bulletin board: “No fear. No distractions. The ability to let that which does not matter truly slide.” I find it helpful.

    Good luck!

  2. Pingback: Comps Notes: Texts in the City | Ph.D.s and Pigtails

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