Ann's Area Exam

EGO » How-To Guides

Areas: English Renaissance Drama/Performance and Courtesy Literature (Manners)

Ask seven different people what the area exams are supposed to be, and you will get seven wildly different answers. The truth is, I think, that the requirements of the area exams are a little nebulous in order to accommodate varying student needs and the varying views of faculty members about what the areas actually are. So your area exam will be whatever your committee members think it should be. Ask them how they view the area exams: what are you supposed to be proving in your rationales and in the exam?

The areas process has been for me the most grueling aspect by far of this entire program. My second area was very difficult to pin down and get approved. I went through at least three ideas and four lists before I even found someone willing to head up my second area. The exam requires expertise on the part of the faculty (they need to have read the books you are reading) so if you go outside their intellectual wheelhouses, you may meet resistance. Or you may not. It really depends on your committee members.

Here’s what I learned:
1) Put your areas together with an idea of your future (this idea never came up in the many, many talks I had with various faculty members - I think faculty members think this is obvious, but it wasn’t to me). Do you want to be at a Research 1 school? Then make sure your areas serve as pre-dissertation research. Do you see yourself at a smaller teaching school? Then consider making one of your areas a teaching one, way outside your dissertation interests.

2) The rationales are difficult to write. They’re supposed to be about 15-20 well-written pages. Are you supposed to be making an argument? Proving you did the reading? Again, this one depends on who’s heading your areas. Rationales of past students are available in the room across the hall from Wanda’s office. Try to find a model you like from someone who worked with your faculty members.

3) Your examiners will not be as familiar with your rationales as you are. In the exam, I was thrown because I seemed to keep getting questions that I thought I’d answered in my rationales. And then I panicked and thought they wanted me to approach it in a totally different way than I did in my rationales. They were probably just lobbing me easy questions, but I think I ended up babbling incoherently at times, assuming that they were starting with the base of knowledge that I had, but they just didn't like what I said on paper. Just restate your case from your rationales, and if they want more, they’ll ask for it.

4) Stick to your guns. We’re supposed to be passing from student to colleague in this step of the program. If you have an idea you think is really good, then just be super-solid in your argument and be able talk about it with ease and confidence.

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