My school's comprehensive qualifying procedure has thee parts.

  1. A paper that is a synthesis and analysis of the literature on my topic,
  2. A written exam that lasts 5 days, and
  3. An oral exam on my topic.

This question refers to the second portion.

After reading your paper, each committee member writes a question for you to answer (total of 4). You have from 9 am Monday to 5 pm Friday to write a 2,500- to 3,000-word response to each question (not including bib). This isn't necessarily something you can study for.

I am historically not the fastest writer. I also have a tendency to not always be clear in my writing (it is clear in my head, but not always on paper).

My question is: How can I prepare to successfully pass? I need to write a large amount of high-quality work in a short amount of time with no time to prep for questions ahead of time.

Thanks in advance.

  • 1
    Well, perhaps you could work intensively on your writing with your campus writing center, over the however many weeks or months you have before you take the exam. Practice makes perfect, and this is especially true with writing. Tip: it helps if you repeat a certain format a number of times before you try to branch out to write in a variety of formats. // Also get more practice with revising your work. // Step one, plan your writing. Step two, churn out reams of words and sentences and paragraphs, using your outline as your guide. Let some time go by -- half a day, or overnight, before ... Apr 20 '18 at 3:53
  • 1
    ... proceeding to Step 3: proofread. Try reading it out loud. Display it in a different font or different size, or on a different screen. Or print a hard copy. These things will make it easier for you to see an error. Apr 20 '18 at 3:54
  • 1
    That is great advice. Thank you. I guess I should have clarified that I am taking the written portion in a week from now. So I hope by now, I will have written enough. Apr 20 '18 at 15:04
  • This sounds like a marathon, but one that you've been training for. Your mind is prepared, so maybe it would help to make sure your environment is prepared. With the books you need around you, with some yummy snacks, and with some calls or meals with friends scheduled, you'll be in your best position to write. Apr 20 '18 at 16:38

Step one, plan your writing. The most efficient way to work is to write an outline before you start. However, in this case, where you have five days, you might need to alternate activities -- researching, trying out ideas, outlining and writing up parts you feel pretty sure about. So you might find that after a couple of days of this, you've written a large part of your submission, without having gone strictly step by step (outline, then write from the outline). In this case, you may have to produce an outline from your written paragraphs. You might need to do this more than once. Definitely do work with an outline, though, even if it's a bit of a pain to analyze your existing paragraphs and then describe them with an outline.

Why? Because this will help you find places where you're being repetitive, or where you make a leap of faith and omit to explain how you got from Point A to Point B, or where some reordering would make things hang together better.

If you need to consider a major restructuring, it can help to print it all out and cut it up into pieces according to sub-topic, and then try laying out the pieces in a few different orders on the floor or a large table.

Ideally, though, after having written an outline, you would then churn out reams of words and sentences and paragraphs, using your outline as your guide.

Revision: Let some time go by -- half a day, or overnight, before proceeding to the revision stage. Ideas for finding errors and places that aren't clear: Read it out loud. Display it in a different font or different size, or on a different screen. Print a hard copy. Have the computer read it to you out loud. These things will make it easier for you to find problems.

If you're allowed to, ask a friend to read a draft and circle anything that seems unclear or possibly having a spelling, punctuation or grammar mistake.

(The best way of all to prepare for writing is to pre-write with an interested live human being, who asks you, "What is your essay going to be about?")

Get lots of exercise and sleep between now and then, of course. Make sure you have a reliable set-up with all the resources and tools and groceries and peace and quiet you will need, including headphones or ear plugs if noise bothers you. Alert friends and acquaintances that you will be on the dark side of the moon for five days.

Use version control. Save a new, numbered version every couple of hours. Make sure your computer does an autorecover save when it crashes.

Practice makes perfect, and this is especially true with writing -- and revising. So, you may wish to warm up your writing and revising skills between now and then.

Remember that they won't be grading only on the quality of the writing, and that lots of students find writing challenging, but somehow many of them graduated.

  • +1 for “Use version control” and systematic way of doing it
    – anything
    Apr 21 '18 at 2:36

Adding to the above answers,

You need to be thorough with your work first , you need to be aware of every aspect of it from top to bottom to answer questions on it , this is very important , then comes the writing.

Most often , if it is clear in your head , you can phrase it into sentences , refine and rearrange them into answers .

BUT , if you don't know or aren't familiar with parts of your work very well then you cannot answer specific questions on it. Make sure there aren't any blindspots.

In the days before the exam , look out for probable questions from each area and think of how you would answer each of them.

If you have a clear idea and know which way you are going to proceed towards the answer , take your time and write it down and devise your answer into paragraphs , once you start writing you will get the hang of it and just go with the flow.

After writing the answer , read the question a couple more times and review your answer too and make sure it is clear , understandable and to the point.

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