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Hi:

So I'm a couple of weeks away from my comprehensive/qualifying examinations and I still have several books that I need to read. I'm looking for honesty - how often when you were studying did you simply read the intro/conclusion of a book AND/OR just book reviews? I'm the kind of person who enjoys reading as much of the book as possible - but it's crunch time and I'm looking for comfort in numbers. 

Thanks!

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I'm a 1st year PhD in history but had comps for my MA, so take this with a grain of salt. Professors expected us to gut books. I was told not to spend more than 3 hours on a book for comps and to only read the intro, conclusion, bibliography/footnotes closely, then skim the rest and supplement with scholarly book reviews (I read 2-3 per book). I empathize with people who enjoy reading the entire book, but I'd recommend saving a closer reading until after comps so you can get through everything. 

Good luck!

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There are certain books you need to know backwards and forwards. In the dark. If you don't know, ask. If you don't know whom to ask or how to ask, let me know.

Others, you can use the approach outlined in @ashiepoo72's post, above.

The rest you need to know the core argument(s) well enough that you can state it in one well-crafted sentence.

A question: How are you feeling?

 

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All the time! I only read a small fraction of the books on my reading list from front to back. The rest I read the introduction, a book review, an abstract, a conclusion, maybe a specific chapter, etc.

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Ok, I'm going for the whole truth here. But before that, some context: Our comps/quals are three fields of roughly 120 books each. In general, we have a base for fields I and II, but we often tend to create a new list for field III, which is more thematic. 

The best advice I've got:

When prepping for Comps, I lurked some forums. Someone said that we have to imagine Comps as a huge conference and that you should be able to drop in ANY session and ask a question, make an observation, have a short conversation with someone. So, it shows that you are on topic and that you can engage. 

What I did:

  • I scanned as many books as I could and made these files word-searchable.
  • I read reviews more than books. We all love reading but 350 books is impossible to cover. I probably read most introductions and some sections of conclusions. 
  • My notes included a brief summary of the argument, sources, notes on introduction, possible questions that this book would be useful for (eg: "good for gender and labor"), content table and brief anything on chapters, and historical background. Did I do this with 350 books? No. You won't. Nobody does. But you get through it.
  • I used OneNote because you have everything in one place instead of many word documents.
  • I used historiographical essays to remember the big picture. Sometimes we are very invested in one book that we forget why this book is important. 
  • Towards the end, I tried to make connections between authors. 

Habits:

  • It's painful. You won't see much of other humans and you'll feel your life is not your own. But it's only three months of your life (studying and sitting for them). I had post its all over my office to remind me of beautiful things in life. Motivational quotes also worked. It sounds super cheesy, but it just worked. 
  • Get to know what's good for you. I tried to keep up with exercise and I was set not to gain weight during exams. And I didn't (I gained a month after them!). So keep your well-being at top priority.
  • Rely on people. Advisors, friends within the department, friends outside grad life, family. RELY ON THEM. 
  • Enjoy it as much as you can. Remember you'll feel super smart after them! (I sort of lost that feeling by the following semester... hahaha)

Hope it helps! :)

AP

 

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Hi! I know that this is relatively an old thread but I was hoping someone to get back to my concerns for comps. I am currently a third year in History Ph.D. I will be tested on Modern Japan (but mainly on post-WWII era and post-3.11 Disaster period), US Popular culture (US TV/domesticity and Generation X), US foreign policy (nuclear age diplo and imperialism), and Material Culture/Visual Culture. For 4 different fields comp, there are two sub fields. I roughly read about 15-20 books for each question, so that means roughly around 120-160 books total (overlaps are allowed), and I know that it is relatively a low number of readings as compared to other historians' story on their time of the comps. Right now, I am trying to figure out the effective way to gut the books and not be killed with pressure tbh. Then also, how was your comp written and oral exams were like?

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22 hours ago, wacyeah said:

120-160 books total (overlaps are allowed)

With this sort of reading load, which is about 100 less than my list, don't you have time to read in more depth? I would think your examiners would expect a depth of knowledge proportional to the shorter list, making a more rapid approach unwise.

Edited by telkanuru

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Yes, thus I am actually trying to read some chapters of each book more carefully. Thanks for the comment :) 

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On 1/31/2018 at 2:54 AM, wacyeah said:

I am trying to figure out the effective way to gut the books and not be killed with pressure tbh.

I am not sure what you mean by this, then. What exactly are you asking?

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