March 23, 2011

Academic Hazing

Last night, I completed the last in a line of important milestones towards my MA: my comprehensive exam. 

The exam was a six-hour ordeal stretched over two days in three-hour sessions.  It was a series of essay questions based upon this list of readings which I’m sure by now you’re all sick and tired of listening to me talk about.  Day one we had to choose to answer two questions in each of three sections (so we could omit one entire time period) for a total of six questions.  Day two we were give a series of essay questions which spanned the list of which we had to answer two; one in one hour and the second in two hours.

Really, what this amounts to is an age-old hazing ritual unleashed upon graduate students designed to test their mettle, their stamina, and their ability to pull things out of their butt under pressure.

That being said, I think I did pretty well.

The exam is graded upon a Pass/Fail system with marks given for Fail, Low-Pass, Pass and High-Pass.  The mark itself goes nowhere on any official documentation, it is for your own edification only (unless of course you fail, which would mark the beginning of panic-time for you and denote the fact that you are utterly incapable of preparing for a test and aggressively stupid to boot). 

I’m not going to say it was no big deal, because it was a big deal.  But I am going to say that it wasn’t the most rigorous exam I’ve ever been through.  Because of the amount of preparation, forethought and stress that I put into this, I went in well-prepared and all of that preparedness paid off.  The test itself, while long and stressful due to its innate ability to set me back in my life-plans, was not stressful because of its content but rather the pressure exerted upon that content.

I would be curious to know how this sort of thing goes in other departments.  Is it really something worth the amount of stress that we few, we happy few put into it?  Is it something that is seriously failable without being laughed out of the department?  Is it just a right of passage that our mentors had to go through and so subject us to on principle?

I’m not saying that comps exams don’t have a place; I’m just wondering if they are as important as we make them out to be.  And if they are, aren’t they worth being an actual measure of something more than a student’s ability to spew forth focused BS on command?  If a department has faith in its students (and its own ability to prepare those students for the rigors of higher education), shouldn’t the test be crafted to reflect that?

I’m not going to say that it was a piece of cake, it wasn’t.  But I will say that it felt like a shot at the doctor’s office; a whole lot of dread, a whole lot of build-up; some mild cases of panic; then when it’s over you wonder why it was exactly that you were so worked-up in the first place.

…and then you get a lollipop.  Or a beer.  Or a whole lot of beer.

Needless to say, I took last night off from doing any other work to celebrate the fulfillment of this educational landmark with my fellow graduate students at our local dive bar.  I woke up this morning and a few things immediately occurred to me in quick succession:

1)    I was done!  Yes, done!  No more scrambling to scrape together time to read items off of that god-forsaken list!  No more wondering and worrying about how the hell I was going to study for the exam when I had so much other stuff going on in my life!  Yippee!

2)    Oh bloody hell.  I have a paper due on Sunday.  I’ve started researching that one, right?

3)    Yes, I’ve started researching…. But I haven’t started writing… I’m going to need to beg another extension.

4)    I had a paper due two weeks ago!  I’ve started writing that one, right?

5)    Yes, that one’s actually done.  Thank god.

6)    Did I do the readings for tonight’s class?

7)    No, but it’s just a couple Poe stories.  Should be fine.

8)    I have three more papers on top of the two aforementioned papers to write and then I’m done… and a presentation to give… when is that presentation?

9)    Next week.  Crap.

10) It’s snowing.  What the hell, New Jersey?

11) I really shouldn’t have had so much beer last night.

1 comment:

Ian MacAllen said...

It really does come down to a form of hazing. Realistically, timed exams aren't producing publishable papers, and prompted questions aren't creating particularly original ideas.