My strategy for Comps
|Typing a kleine Tag und Nachtmusik of ideas|
I realize everyone's situation will be particular--with respect to institutional arrangements, the expectation of supervisors and committee, personal disposition and station of life, for starters. This is what seems to be working for me thus far (even as I type this entire section with my left hand while I hold a sleepy-fussy Blythe in my right, sitting in my pajamas in the early hours of Sunday morning).
1. First, I made sure I read the material posted on the ThD page. Once I understood this, I then sent an email to our director.
3. In consultation with my primary supervisor, Jeremy Begbie, I determined the categories for which I'd be examined. Corresponding to my primary, secondary and dissertation areas, they would be: "Theological Aesthetics," "Pneumatology" and "Liturgical Theology."
4. I then drafted a list of books and articles for each category. Knowing that I would eventually land somewhere between 50 and 75, I began with an excess of material, somewhere around 100. These constituted the material I felt I needed to know and wanted to know.
5. After sending this list to Jeremy and then also to Lester Ruth, my secondary supervisor, requesting their editorial eye, I trimmed the list to around 70ish, give or take a journal article. This is the material I would wrestle with, know, memorize and then argue pro or con in the exams.
6. While some students know their questions in advance (and that doesn't actually make the exam easier), Jeremy informed me that I would encounter my questions on the day of the exam. I would have 14 days within which to take all three exams.
7. Here then the first strategy. The exercises which this preparation involves are several. The first exercise involves knowing the material well. To that end I read the book or article, then summarize the material in the following fashion:
- The book's/article's thesis
- Key issues or ideas that the material raises
- Key critiques on my part (both pro and con)
- Key quotes
I write a summary for every book or article I read.
8. The second strategy moves beyond knowing the material to being able to put the material in my own words and to determine where I agree or disagree with it, and to discern how I might state or build the argument differently.
Those are the kinds of questions that matter, to my mind.
10. Instead of leaving these answers scattered across a ream of sheets and post-it notes and the back of my hand, I've decided to organize them in a way that profits me short term and long term. For each category I will write a "10 Theses" document.
12. The abridged version I memorize by heart. If you wish, stop me at some point and make me recite my ten theses about corporate worship. It'll take me 4 minutes flat.
"That it will be personal and communal because, through the Spirit, Christians are made actively to participate in the Son's communion with the Father."
14. In short, the unabridged version of my "10 Theses" becomes the cheat sheet for the exam. While I don't know what I'll be asked, I do know what I think and believe about the subject and I have a reasonable sense of how my arguments will resonate with or part ways with my primary interlocuters.
15. All extracurricular activities this term have to serve the larger purposes of preparing for comps. I give three talks at Tyndale College (Toronto) in October, I give one talk at the Anglican Worship conference in November, and I may be traveling to NYC in early December for an Orthodox conference on beauty. All talks will dovetail with material related to my exams. It isn't an option otherwise.
Ruby Blythe Marie, things have needed to shift. As always, family and the well-being of my soul take precedence in this enterprise. I commit to praying while I study and I ask friends to pray for me during this time of preparation. I try to stay focused. I give myself daily tasks as well as weekly goals. I write to-do lists. I trust God to guide me well.
And I take Stanley Hauerwas' advice to heart: put one brick on top of another, one brick per day, and you'll eventually have a house built.
Oh, and my office walls are plastered with summary notes and theses statements, along with St. Augustine and the Doctor Angelicus, bearing daily witness to me about my current vocation.