I figure it's about time I did this post. Prepare for excruciating detail that is still very vague to stave off accusations of leaking departmental secrets!
The text was November 27th, from 11:05 am to 3:05. I and 7 of my PhD candidate cohorts were ushered into a computer lab, set up with a word document, and told to have at it. Four hours, four thousand words, and seven single spaced pages later, it was had. The time flew by fairly quickly. I can't really say how long any one question took me, as I alternated: I had three essays to write, and so I would do one paragraph of one, then alternate to the next. It maybe wasn't the best idea in terms of the overall flow of the essays, but for weeks before the exam, I was told over and over again that the worst thing I could do on it would be to skip a question entirely. The alternating method was a way of moving beyond that.
The whole exam went quickly, and unfolded in ways I really didn't expect. For the first two essays, I wound up with theses I actually thought were kind of interesting: "The means by which literature is defended provides the grounds for its next attack" and "The definitions of semiotics demonstrate a constant push and pull towards the original linguistic definition provided by Ferdinand de Saussure." Even the last essay surprised me, in that the pinnacle text turned out to be Stephen Greenblatt's Renaissance Self-Fashioning, a book I almost skipped reading because I thought there was no way I'd be using a Renaissance-based text. I guess the whole exercise was a demonstration of how things can unfold unpredictably in a test situation.
Now, the gripe: I worked pretty damn hard on the studying for this exam. My list had (depending on how you count) 80 some texts on it, with nine different subcategories. I read for 4 months solid (okay, solid if you don't count the time in Toronto with my parents, or the time at the conference in Atlanta. But even in those cases, I had a book with me the whole time, and read a few hundred pages during the trip.). I wound up with 400 pages of typed single-spaced notes. That's about twice the length of the average dissertation. But due to the way the test was written, I could only write on 5 of 9 categories--which means a maximum of about 45 texts. And each text I used should be used in a fairly in-depth manner, which meant that I managed to use about 12 in the whole paper. Twelve texts out of 80. Sigh. Of course, there was no way to know going in which 12 I'd use, and the purpose of the exam to teach me an entire body of literature that will be useful for my academic career. Which texts I use in a 4 hour exam is ultimately of little importance when compared to the significance of setting up an area of expertise I'll be able to draw on for the rest of my life. But still... 12...
Anyway, I turned my paper in, and I'll be hearing the results in 2 weeks. For now, it's time for relaxing and chilling--chillaxin', if you will. We kicked it off English Grad Style starting the night of the exam, which was filled with beer, pool, and bowling--then in bed by midnight, because after 8 years of schooling, we're all prematurely aged and cranky for missing our afternoon nap. Good times.
I'd like to thank my friends and family for all the support over the last few days--it's been hugely encouraging, and being able to celebrate with said friends after the comp was the icing on the awesome cake. One down, one to go--multimedia, be prepared to be... studied.