Here’s a combination of what I know and suspect. Don’t quote me or sue me, please. (I’ll be busy with the research exam.)
Preparing for the Exams
The examples/samples I’ve seen from a professor suggest that the exams could be scenario-based. I think this likely. Why? Logically, our professors want to know (a) if we know the concepts within the content we’ve been studying and (b) if we can synthesize that knowledge into a real-world application by (c) relating our answer to the literature. Asking us to parrot back the tenants of some theory makes little sense, but that doesn’t preclude using points of a theory in your response. (I know I did when I practiced.) Takeaway: Know your theory…or at least the tenants of one or two.
A professor shared that the reason some fail these exams is that they failed to “…connect their recommendations to anything drawn from the literature.” My prep has included identifying what I see as key aspects of theories and practices with textbook authors attached, at the very least.
Practically, there is only so much you can do in two hours with only memory recall as your aide/guide and they know this. Imagining myself a grader of such exams (and we’ve all graded essay questions, I suppose), I would look for substantive content that fits the scenario (as opposed to so much unrelated prattle that says nothing), legitimate links to the literature with at least some in-text citations to the texts’ authors, and a general (subjective) sense that the student knows what he/she is talking about.
With all due respect to our professors and administrators: I wish the SoE at RU had provided us with more guidance regarding exam preparation. I don’t think this would have violated any ethics or weakened the doctoral program. Telling me I can bring my Bible and a pencil seems a bit sparse given the stakes involved. They could safely tell us the exam questions could be in any of x formats. What’s the harm is confirming that “you should be able to synthesize concepts of theory and practice to apply in real-world scenarios” even if that is only one possible option? Silence on this point speaks loudly, like a booming voice from above that sounds like Ponton and says, “KNOW IT ALL!”
Taking the Exams (Fred’s plan…for whatever that’s worth)
When the clock starts ticking, I plan to use the scratch paper provided to write out my last will and testament…just in case. I will then quickly jot down any pieces of information I reviewed over breakfast and fear forgetting. (Admittedly, this is bad practice conceptually. I either know it or not, but still, I may need to jot down a rare fact, quote, or something about Constructivist Theory before I forget it. I will then read and reread the instructions. My nature is to overthink things and write well outside the confines of the question. That’s sure to impress someone, just not the graders of the exam. Next, I will start to outline my response. I am counting on points for good organization of my response. It has to be coherent, right? I’m sure this will require using the back of my sheet of scrap paper. [Hand raised] Can I have another ream…er…piece of paper, please?
After some prayer, thought, and planning of my response, I will then start actually writing/composing the thing. This is my pattern and may not fit your style. I write sermons weekly that can run 6-8 pages in length including some quotes or citations that I research and reference. (I get asked who said x or where I found information about y and like to be able to share. I said all that to say this: My style is to plan first and write second. I think I’ll give a better answer in this manner.
I intend on going to bed early Friday or least trying. If nerves threaten to keep me up, I have a cocktail of Melatonin and old sermons to put me to sleep. (The latter seems to work well for my church on Sundays…) I’ll eat a good, but bland breakfast to avoid stomach upset. Anxiety notwithstanding, I think it is a serious mistake to try to do all that brain work on an empty stomach. I’m likely to pop a couple Excedrin at 7:59 to stave off a possible headache caused by the reality of my doctoral dreams crashing and burning right there in Room 154 of Communications Building. Come to think of it, I should chew some Rolaids as well. Of course, I jest.
Confession: I have tremendous peace about these exams. Not that I’m brilliant or hyper-prepared; I’m neither. In fact, my point of concern or burden is that I am a theologian by education and practice, not a veteran educator. The theories and pedagogies are new to me. I feel at a bit of a disadvantage. That peace I mentioned is courtesy of the Holy Spirit of my Master, Jesus. I’m still reviewing chapters and looking over notes and will be until I retire on Friday night in The Founders’ Inn.
Let’s trade prayers for one another as we approach this challenge in the power and name of Jesus Christ.
To Him who began a good work in you and Who will carry it on to completion (Phil. 1.6) and to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Eph. 3.20-21).