Woo Hoo! I passed! I can hardly believe it. I don't think the full reality of the fact that I have actually passed the UTSA M.A. Comprehensive Exam for English has hit me yet, but I know it will, and when it does, it will be glorious. I even took the exam a full semester early to prepare for the possibility that I didn't pass it and had to take it again in the Spring. But now, that will not be necessary and I can just enjoy my last semester and prepare for graduation.
Now that I have experienced the full stress and horror of the exam from beginning to end, I thought I would give my top ten tips for anyone out there who has to take this thing. This is stuff that worked well for me, so you can take it or leave it.
10. For the semester in which you choose to take the exam, treat it as if it is another 3 credit hour course. This will put it in perspective as far as the amount of time that will be necessary to devote to it.
9. Start reading early and take notes as you go. I started this blog last June and still almost ran out of time at the end and had to rush things. Make no mistake, there is a massive amount of stuff to read on that list.
8. READ EVERYTHING. Most of the professors know what it is in the movie versions.
7. Check different sources and editions. Don't go to Wikipedia thinking it is a one-stop shop of information. I feel like that should go without saying, but I know the temptation is there. I mean, it is Wikipedia...but believe it or not, people try it. And only reading plot summaries from any source as a substitute for the work is just a bad idea. Refer to tip #8 for more clarification.
6. Join or form a study group if you can. I actually wasn't able to do this, but it would have been nice. There is something about meeting regularly to discuss and study with others who are currently going through the exact same thing you are.
5. Meet at least once with all three of your committee members, not just your chair. I found this to be extremely helpful to me. There is no guarantee you'll have professors on your committee that you already know (in fact, I hadn't ever had a class with any of my committee members). And it was nice to not have my oral exam be the first time I was meeting them. It allows for it to be much more like a conversation than a test.
4. For the four-hour written part, do not eat anything heavy beforehand, but do eat something, or take a light snack. But for the love of all that is good please no noisy chip bags. There will be other people in the writing lab with you desperately trying to concentrate. And I love Cheetos as much as the next person but really, the cheese dust will only hinder your ability to type anyway.
3. Also for the written, try to make sure to leave yourself some time at the end to go back over what you wrote. I didn't do that and basically finished up my explication of the poem and had to hit print without a chance to correct any mistakes beyond the usual spellcheck.
2. In the oral, take the opportunity to correct or expand upon anything you may have discussed in the written part of the exam. I went ahead and corrected myself on one thing I didn't define correctly and it totally helped.
1. And my number one tip for the exam: accept right now the fact that you will read many things on your personal list that you will not be asked about or get to discuss on either the oral or written part of the exam. And this counts for both required and recommended texts. My oral exam went over a good deal of what I wrote, so there were very few works that we discussed that I hadn't already written about. So there are quite a few monsters I read and studied in detail that never came up. Most notable are Paradise Lost, Tom Jones, Middlemarch, Bleak House, Invisible Man, and the poetry of John Donne, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and William Wordsworth. No. Joke. I am not complaining in the slightest bit...I probably couldn't talk much about Wordsworth if I tried, but still, kind of surprising.
And there you have it. I hope this, and all of my other posts, were nothing if not helpful to anyone taking the M.A. Exam in English. It definitely helped me.
So what will I do with this blog now? Actually, I am going to keep it as a book blog, but from now on I will just do book reviews of newer fiction, but still also visit the classic monsters that I tend to be drawn too, a lot of which have been sitting on my shelf for years now because I had to read for this exam (Don Quixote I am looking in your direction). I don't know when I will actually be able to start this since of course now that I am done with the test I have to focus on writing a paper for the class I am taking. But either way, that is my plan...so we'll see how it goes.