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The closest analogy that I can give to someone outside of academia of the doctoral comprehensive exam is that it closely resembles the Bar exam for law school graduates and the Boards exam for med school graduates. A student’s performance on the exam is expected to exhibit a satisfactory grasp of the program’s major content areas. Our program’s comp exam also includes two questions related to the student’s research interest(S).  Here is what we have: three questions; responses that are 12-15 pages each; seven days to complete.

I have had a “comps cloud” over my head this entire semester. I have heard grueling stories of students writing for 8 to 10 hours per day and hitting “send” right before the expiration time.  I had no idea what my questions would be like or if I would feel confident answering them in a way that would please my committee. What would it be like to write for such a long time each day? How would I maintain my energy and commitment throughout the week? What if I had some sort of freak accident like my computer crashing my files magically disappearing?

I received my exam last Friday at 5pm. I’d outlined a generic process that I wanted to follow so how I preceded. Friday was spent outlining and gathering resources. Saturday morning at 7am I got started with writing. I also rented a place so that I could be away from home, outside of my comfort zone with minimal distractions. My plan for the next few days was to write in 2 hour blocks, with a 30-minute break in between and a much longer evening break to exercise and have some downtime. The late evening hours would be spent editing and double-checking references. My nights ended close to midnight for the first few days.

By Tuesday I was in a much better position. I took longer breaks – an hour or so – and reintroduced myself to the world 🙂 (A few friends stopped by to bring snacks and to help me switch gears to other happenings). Wednesday and Thursday were spent wrapping things up and doing some serious editing. By Friday I did three rounds of “let me look at this one more time” to make sure I answered all sections of the questions, my responses were coherent and flowed logically and the formatting was as desired and required. I hit “submit” around 3pm (exam was due at 5). I could feel the weight of the exam lifted from my entire body ~ LOL!!! I felt amazing! I’d done it! And although the written portion still has to be graded and we have an oral component as well, in my mind I still kicked butt on what I produced.

In seven days, I cranked out nearly 60 pages – including references – in a way that I never knew or imagined I could. I wrote for longer periods that I ever have. I remained focus in a way that allowed me to be completely comfortable and confident with my final product.  I know that it’s not perfect, but it is my absolute best! I MADE IT! I SURVIVED!!!