As I’ve been reading for my comps this summer, there is one little tip or trick that stands out above all others—
It is the importance of maintaining a schedule.
If you know me, you know I’m a creature of habit. Every morning I have the same routine where I put dishes I left out to air dry the day before away, make coffee, make my bed, and do my makeup. I do it this way every day and in that exact order. No deviation. Ever. I’m very boring overall, and probably a little OCD, but I think this also shows me to be reliable as well. You couldn’t exactly set your clock by me, but you could certainly predict what would happen next, which is where I think the boring comes in.
So when I took up this studying for comps, I knew a schedule for myself would be imperative and would also help to keep me motivated. I also knew that the possibility of such a schedule during the early part of summer would be impossible because of other work I had to do (teaching, conference, fellowship, more teaching), and really this was my downfall for studying this summer and led me to not doing a lot of reading until after mid-June. But once I got a schedule going, and forced myself to follow it, I became really productive and things worked out well. The only problem was that I probably didn’t reach this point until July, but at least I got there.
So this is what I do now, and will continue to do so for as long as possible because I think a schedule is the only way I can get through this: In the morning, I do whatever class prep or grading I have to do. When I first started hardcore prepping, I tried to read for comps in the morning, but it didn’t work as well because I tend to eat a very light breakfast, and so I got hungry quickly. Instead, now I eat lunch first and go and read for comps until I feel I have met my quota for the day, which I usually set for 1-2 sources per day. This seems to work out pretty well as I can usually get through at least one source and take good notes on that source, though if I don’t meet a quota that means reading for the weekend. At the end of the day, I go over the notes I took and highlight and review. I repeat things back to myself in my head and try to remember things I had taken notes on previously and connect them to the day’s readings. But the really fun thing I do is that I make notes of what I could argue in my dissertation using these sources. I love that part.
While a schedule isn’t probably necessary for everyone, and I could see where more extroverted or spontaneous people would die in these conditions, it works for me. I also have enjoyed my time reading for comps. I know, right? I have enjoyed my time being able to read, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel anxiety or worry about my upcoming exams. I definitely do feel those things. But it is still great to have all this time to myself to just read. I’ve always been a reader, and so this is really the easy part for me, whereas for some others I can imagine this part is the harder part.
Also, here is a good article about studying for comps from a comp/rhet PhD student. She actually passed and while I have been doing most of what she states here, I certainly could start imagining and looking over past questions, timing myself with those questions, and maybe using some 750words.com.