Qualification Exams: T-minus 72 hours


I am once again taking a small procrastination break. The last few days have been long. Non-stop reading. I must have done 60+ papers over Friday and Saturday. Don’t get me wrong, a LOT of them were helpful and I wish I had read them a bit sooner, but hopefully reading them last will keep them a bit more fresh in mind. Those papers are on top of the pile of information I’ve so ruthlessly crammed into my brain, you know?

Here’s my game plan for the last three days:

Today I will be going over major questions, topics, and issues in my projects I know I’ll be asked about, formulating my answers and drafting prepared responses. Plus a huge review session with my labmate, going over a lot of those questions and chunks of general knowledge.

Monday: Add a few slides to my presentation, fine-tuning it a bit and begin actually practicing the presentation (not that it will matter since I know this particular group is fond of interrupting and asking questions throughout the presentation, rather than waiting until the end). Review all my notes and practice answering more questions.

Tuesday: Practice my presentation a few more times and review notes. Stop around 6 and get a good night’s sleep.

I do say, ‘stop early and get a good night’s sleep’ on Tuesday, but I have to say that compared to a lot of the other periods in my life where I was doing a lot of studying (any GT midterm or finals week), I feel like I’m doing a good job of staying healthy.

Just to give you an idea of how I’ve approached studying: I taken frequent, short breaks during the day to watch funny videos, chat with labmates, go for walks, and reflect on where I am and what I’ve been doing by writing a blog. I also do a good job at ending at a decent time every night (somewhere between 8-10pm, generally). Most days I use a Pomodoro timer (4 cycles of 25 minutes of working and 5 minute breaks, followed by a longer break, and repeat), and that has really helped me to stay focused for longer periods of time than I normally am able to.

Every few days I’ll take a longer break, too (like spending half a Sunday to cook, catch up on chores and laundry, and read/watch something for fun). Last Wednesday (t-minus 1 week) a friend was in town and I took the evening to have dinner with him and go see a comedy show. Despite throwing off my sleep schedule (resulting in 3 hours of sleep– not ideal), having that evening to decompress was so useful. Don’t underestimate the power of getting away from your desk and spending a few hours not stressing about stuff.

I’ve watched a few friends in my cohort go through quals prep and I remember them putting absolutely everything off until after quals. No checking emails, no meetings, no meals with friends. At first I thought that because I wasn’t doing all that, it meant that I wasn’t taking quals and quals prep as seriously as them. I don’t think that’s the case, though.

I know that taking care of myself, making sure I sleep well, that I get out in the fresh air, that finding ways to make myself laugh, will have a HUGE benefit on my studying, much more so than trying to cram an extra 3-4 hours of studying into my life everyday. I would burn out and those extra hours would just be me staring blankly at pages. I’ve been down that road before and I obviously came out fine, but I didn’t want to do that again.

But I guess I’ll find out if this was a good strategy if I pass quals, huh?

Do you have any (mis)adventures in studying? Things that worked, things that killed you? Do you remember a specific exam or project that you pulled multiple all-nights for?

I never pulled an all-nighter for an exam, but I pulled a lot of late nights for Computational Physics homeworks pretty regularly. I was horrible about procrastinating for that class, though the homework always took 6-12 hours. What better time to start than 5pm the night before it was due?

Anyways, time to get back to it.





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