There won't be any bubbles on my comprehensive exam, but there will be hours of work. Over the past week I've been making my final preparations, most of which are designed to make next week go as smoothly as possible. A summary:
Ready My References
Having books around is a luxury, but for this level of work, it's even more important to have a way of keeping track of the hundreds of journal articles that I might want to use in my comps responses. I've been using Mendeley as my reference manager since the spring of 2010. Regardless of what tool you use -- Zotero, RefWorks, Endnote, Papers, etc. -- it's important during any writing period to have something that allows you to focus on writing, not scrambling for citation information and digging through the APA style book.
If there's one thing I can't let myself do is turn my comps into a massive search for new literature. I admit, I love the thrill of the hunt, and I've spent many hours digging around in Google Scholar tracking down papers that I realistically have no time to read. I need to trust that most of what I need I already have and I've already read, and keep my literature hunting to a minimum.
Minimize Distractions and Get ComfortableFor my last week before comps, I actually spent very little time studying and more time minimizing potential distractions. I've been to the grocery store, I've washed dishes and laundry, and I reformatted and reinstalled my operating system, virtual machine, and software on my computer because a few things had gotten flaky after a year of hard use. I've never liked studying right before a test anyway, as any attempt to "cram" is nullified by thoughts that always begin, "If I don't know it by now...." I passed my 100-hour studying mark a week or so ago and that will have to be good enough.
I'll probably work mostly at my desktop. If your computer had three monitors, 16 GB of RAM, university broadband peaking at nearly 90Mbps up and down, and a pair of Sennheiser HD 595s, you'd probably work at it, too. I might try working some in my office, and my kitchen table is nice for when a lot of open books are involved. I don't want to be stuck in my office chair for 18 hours a day, so I plan to do some heavy thinking while running and in a pinch I can even prop my laptop up on my exercise bike.
Sometimes I work in silence, but not very often. I don't want to get distracted by moving pictures, but there are a few movies I can play for background noise without losing focus, mostly because I've seen them so many times. I can get distracted by podcasts, so I'll try to listen to those selectively over the next week. I'll listen to a lot of music, and my tastes for a task like this tend to be towards the incredibly gifted (Tori Amos, Curtis Mayfield, Norah Jones, Sia) and music that's downtempo/trip-hop or otherwise having a likable female vocal/bass combo (Thievery Corporation, Zero 7, Garbage). Seriously, in the midst of an important exam, who wouldn't want to perform as relaxed and confidently as LouLou?: