Preliminary (Comprehensive) Exam Questions

Anyone got any good advice for me regarding preliminary examinations? I'm trying to assemble my reading lists now. In my program, we take one exam in rhetorical theory, one in technical communication theory and research, and the third in our specialty area (mine will be feminist rhetorics of technology/cyberfeminism). Depending on each committee's discretion, the student takes one 2-4 hour in-house exam and one 24-hour take-home exam in each area. In thinking about prelims, I'm wondering: Are there any "best practices" in selecting readings for your reading lists? How should I prepare for the exams, and for how long? Should I be thinking about questions I might want to answer? What form will the questions take? Something like this:

In The Philosophy of Literary Form, Burke writes:

Magic, verbal coercion, establishment or management by decree, says, in
effect: "'Let there be'--and there was." And men share in the magical
resources of some power by speaking 'in the name of' that power. [...]
The magical decree is implicit in all language; for the mere act of
naming an object or situation decrees that it is to be singled out as
such-and-such rather than as something-other. Hence, I think that an
attempt to eliminate
magic, in this sense, would involve us in the elimination of vocabulary
itself as a way of sizing up reality. Rather, what we may need is correct
magic, magic whose decrees about the naming of real situations is the
closest possible approximation to the situation named (with the greater
accuracy of approximation being supplied by the "collective revelation"
of testing and discussion).

What exactly does Burke mean by "magic"? Is this concept a precursor to the concepts of performativity and citationality that we see in Judith Butler's work?

Will the questions be in this form--a quotation from a theorist and then a question asking me to interpret the quotation? Or might the questions ask us to define a term--for example, heteroglossia as Bakhtin uses it? Or will they be broader questions, for example, asking us to describe the rise and fall of positivism?)


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Ew. Poor Clancy :( Why'd I think you were past this hoop already? It's Terra, by the way. Want me to send you the questions I had to answer on mine? I can probably dig them up -- just email me.

When you're reading, read for the main ideas. Remember basic time periods -- like early 80's, mid-80's, etc. Remember authors and titles and the basic gist of what each had to say. For example, be able to spew out five sentences on Mina Shaughnessy's work and how it has effected (or is it affected?) our work with basic writers. The best thing to do, and this is coming from someone who isn't fond of paper and pens, is make a small notecard for every source on your reading list. On each card, write basic source information and a summary of the important points each makes. Make these points broad. You're trying to show the breadth of your knowledge. You're not going to have time to get into the nitty-gritty of any one source.

My friend, Kathy, gave me the best advice ever as I went into both the written and oral parts of my prelims: your committee wants you to do well.


I appreciate this. :-)


I'm taking my comps next week... The best thing I did was go to our grad. office and look at lists of old exam questions to get a sense of the kinds of things people get asked. If you have such a resource, definitely check it out. I'm expecting my questions to be pretty general--like "How have scholars in the last 25 years responded to Carolyn Miller's 1979 call for "humanistic" approaches to technical writing?". Good luck with your list! If you want I can forward you a copy of mine (my sections were rhet/comp, women's rhetorics, rhetoric of science, and technology studies).

Hell yeah, Anonymous!

Please, I'd love to see yours. Thanks. :)

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