How to Succeed at Comps Without Really Trying, Week 10

I thought I might give some (practical?) advice to anyone who may ever find his or herself going through comps. Or staring at a landslide of books that it will take a summer worth the reading to move.

  • If you have multiple lists/topics: rotate your reading. If you read one list all at once, it will be dusty in your brain by the time you write your papers.
  • Although you may be told otherwise, your lists are not set in stone. If you find a source that will help you but isn’t on your list, read it. Quote it. You write your lists before you do your reading, so you’ll discover things along the way. Wonderful things.
  • Give into the nap. You’ll be more productive on the other side.
  • Nothing derails reading like a hangover.
  • Don’t mark in library books (even with pencil, it will take forever to erase everything). Instead, go nuts with sticky notes, preferably slender ones.
  • Once you find a kind of sticky note you like, buy the store out. Seriously.
  • Play music.
  • Understand that your papers won’t be made up of three or four heavily quoted sources, you can pick from every source you’ve read (over 100). So only mark the most important passages in each book, or you’ll have an overwhelming number of quotes by the end.
  • Understand that you may not know what your exact questions will be, but you can guess. Use this reasoning to limit the number of quotes you collect.
  • Understand that your papers may require different support than you anticipated. So mark every good quote regardless of how many you end up with.
  • Not every source you put on your list will be golden. If it isn’t going to help you write your paper (or at least expand your knowledge of your topic) put it down.
  • Find a daily reading rhythm. Set up hours, complete with breaks. Lots of breaks.
  • Find a weekly reading rhythm.
  • Adjust your reading schedule as you progress. Your stamina and abilities will change.
  • Don’t feel guilty if you can’t hold a strict reading schedule. Instead, view yourself as being immersed in your reading. Read every free minute you have. So you’re still being productive, but have a more flexible schedule.
  • Read outside.
  • Your brain will get exhausted. You will not be as mentally quick or nimble as you usually are. This means your abilities to socialize might take a hit.
  • Because you’ll be mentally exhausted, for the love of god, don’t try to date (if you do, let me know how it goes).
  • Always carry two books with you at all times. You never know when you’ll get stuck somewhere. And you never know when you’ll finish the first.
  • Pace your reading so you don’t burn out.
  • Push yourself hard enough that you don’t panic.
  • Exhaustion is ok.
  • Some of your peers will have read more than you. Be at peace with this.
  • Accept that the way you read will change. Drastically.
  • Kiss close reading goodbye.
  • Aim to read your shortest texts first. You’ll move at a faster clip (increasing your confidence) and by the time you reach the longer texts, you’ll have acquired the ninja-like reading skills required to handle them quickly.
  • It’s ok to have days where you don’t read as much as others.
  • Don’t neglect your body.
  • Realize that you’re going to be sitting on your butt for longer stretches of time that you probably ever have before. This means you’ll be burning fewer calories. Adjust your diet.
  • Identify the things that are vital to your life. Do those things.
  • Use panic to perform superhuman feats.
  • Respond to your reading by writing.
  • Learn to say no. Your friends and family might see your days as seemingly empty. They’ll invite you to things because they like you. Again, learn to say no.
  • Realize that you might not be able to read everything on your lists. This is ok. Read enough to write your papers, then finish the rest later.
  • You’ll never have another period of time to read like you do during comps. Take advantage of it.
  • Remember that you only have to do this once.
  • Your classmates are going through the same thing, use them as support.
  • Some classmates will disappear. People deal with stress in different ways. Let them disappear. They’ll come back. I promise.
  • If you are the one that disappears. Don’t panic. You’ll come back. I promise.

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