Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I'm gonna make it do what it do!

The last couple of weeks of preparation have been difficult. I was feeling okay about this, until I started really thinking about the amount of material I have to memorize, and I managed to convince myself I was going to fail. This, coupled with some other stressful grad life related events, put me in a bad place for awhile.

Yesterday, I printed up 38 pages of notes that I got third-hand for the exam, and spent some time looking at them, both in the hardcopy and in Word. There are three general issues I have to know inside and out: measurement & measurement problems, the correlates of crime (race, class, gender, and age), and major criminological theories (classical, social disorganization, self control, social control, social learning/differential association, strain, life course, labeling, and critical/feminist). Even if you know what all of that means, it's an overwhelming amount of material. So, as a way to combine everything, I decided to approach it differently and combined concepts to make studying easier. This is how it shakes down:

Measurement issues remain their own thing, but also incorporate life course vs. self control theories, since those theories argue for cross sectional versus panel data.

Age also links with life course theory, self control theory (to an extent), and some Marxist theories.

Gender links with feminist theories, a brand of strain theory, power and control theory, but that's more or less it.

Race and class link with strain theory, social disorganization theory, Marxist theories, and subcultural theories.

Life course, learning, control (self and social), strain, and labeling all pretty much exist on their own.

So that's that. I am nervous as hell about this exam, but at least I am not so scared that I can't come up with a way to at least try and approach the material.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

And they're off!

I've started and deleted so many blogs over the past 7 or 8 years that starting another one seemed kind of pointless, because the odds of this being abandoned are probably higher than I'm willing to admit. But, unlike past blogs, whose purpose was to give me an outlet to whine about my life and kill time in my room hiding from my obnoxious roommates, the purpose of this blog is to give me another way to keep my focus.

Maybe I should back it up.

I am a doctoral candidate at a small midwestern university, and I am taking my comprehensive/preliminary exams in August. If you don't know what this exam is, think of it in terms of the Bar for law students or Boards for med students. Depending on the structure of the prelim, it can be much harder than the Bar, which is just a multiple choice test. My exam will consist of 8 questions over 2 days at 4 hours and 4 questions per day. If I fail, my entire schedule gets pushed back a semester, which would be a small disaster, and if I fail it twice then I am totally and completely fucked.

The purpose of this blog, then, is to give me an outlet to write about what I'm studying and keep myself on track, structuring my thoughts about and strategies for the exam in another medium. No, I am not the only person taking the exam -- my friends Rob and Dani are both taking the criminology exam, and we're working closely on all of this -- but whatever else I can do to help myself prepare, I'm going to do it.

These are the study materials I have so far:

- A copy of every exam given from 1970s to this past January. We used these to outline the major areas we need to focus on given the trends in the questions asked over the past 4 years.

- An enormous binder overflowing with articles and notes that have been passed down from student to student over the past 2 years. I haven't dared look at this monster yet.

- A grocery bag full of notecards organized by topic area, which I'm delving into today.

- Computer copies of 2 students notes, which outline the major theoretical areas again and include all of the major works the faculty in my department have done over the past 30 years that merit inclusion in some of the questions on the exam.

- And finally, my own previous attempts to answer some of the questions when they've been included as final exam questions in previous classes.

My plan, for the time being, is going to be to sit and look at the notecards, which are helpfully organized by topic area. Using this blog to write out the various citations and findings in a more organized form will undoubtedly be helpful for me, but completely boring for all of you. Because of that, I'm going to try and mix it up when I can, just in case anyone does ever read this with any regularity. But really, it's just a way to help me prepare for my exam in August.