OpenComps: Written Exam Down, Oral Exam to Go

About two weeks ago I submitted my written responses to my comprehensive exam questions. I can't go into detail about the questions, but I'll summarize them this way:
  1. Here's a dichotomy from the learning sciences. Deal with it.
  2. Somebody did a quantitative study X and now wants to do Y. Before you think Y is a good idea, what do you have to know about X?
  3. How would you help math teachers learn about X given conditions Y?
I hadn't quite anticipated Question 1 so there was some background work to do before I could address certain details. Thankfully, I was pretty well prepared to structure my argument, and it was on this question that I did my best writing. While I'd had dreams of finishing a couple questions before the end of the weekend, my actual pace was slower than that. A lot slower. By the end of Friday, I'd written about a paragraph, and by the end of Saturday, I'd written about a page. Fortunately, that was the foothold I needed to have the rest of the 9-page paper finished on Sunday.

Next I answered Question 2. In some ways this was the question that worried me the most, but my studying definitely helped. Still, my writing was slow and it wasn't really until late Wednesday when I had this question finished. When you have three questions to answer in seven days, taking six days to answer the first two questions is less than ideal.

That left me to answer Question 3 in a bit of a writing sprint starting in the wee hours of Thursday morning, breaking to attend and teach class Thursday afternoon and evening, and then writing until 7am Friday morning to finish. Question 3 was my advisor's question and the one for which I was most prepared; in fact, a couple pages was largely a rehash of some of some things I'd blogged about in the past. Having that for a strong start certainly helped the rest of the paper take shape rather quickly.

It was a relief to reach the end of comps week, but I couldn't get too much rest because I had put off a number of things (okay, almost everything) during comps and in the weeks leading up to comps. Professors and fellow students are very understanding about it, which is great, but I wasn't entirely comfortable using comps as an excuse to not do much else during that time. In the past two weeks (including some of every day of my fall break), I've been catching up with the class I take, the class I teach, and the research project I'm on. I haven't been blogging and my social media activity has been pretty minimal during this time, but I'm starting to feel caught up.

The last hurdle to clear is the oral examination, scheduled for this Tuesday morning. I'm not too concerned about it, and thankfully, the message from my comps committee has been not to worry. But between now and then I will be going back over my responses, double-checking the literature I cited, and reading a few new things I uncovered during the comps process. My advisor hinted at some things he wants to talk about and I'll be sure to prepare for those things, too.


  1. "in fact, a couple pages was largely a rehash of some of some things I'd blogged about in the past."

    Nice. I'm hoping this whole blogging thing hasn't been a total drain on resources better spent on grad school.

    1. When I looked back at my comps responses last night, I realized there were a couple places where I'd reused citations or quotations that I probably wouldn't have had at my disposal had I not been blogging. Even better, during my oral exam today (which I passed, yay) my advisor commented that, "You really didn't go in much depth about this point in your response, which surprised me because I thought you described it quite well on your blog." If that's not re-affirming, I'm not sure what is.