Comps

Ok, so, at my school, there is an exam at the end of your doctoral education which we affectionately call “comps.” It stands for Comprehensive Exam,” although it is anything but. Comps are considered a nerve wracking necessary evil and bound to drive students to therapy. The short of it is that the profs make up some questions that are meant to test one’s ability to synthesize all that they’ve learned and prepare a comprehensive answer. Here’s the thing, though. Nearly every year for the last 6 they have changed the standards and procedures for comps, so much so that when you ask a prof about them, they are either unwilling to answer or just tell you what they remember from last year. So, three years ago, they offered 7 questions. There were 4 categories, and in 3 categories, students had to pick one of two questions. The 7th question was mandatory. After the answers were graded (which took one month) students were allowed to re-write answers that they missed (for up to two questions) AFTER getting feedback from someone on the comps committee. They were given pretty much as many chances to re-write as they needed to pass. The person who was then in charge of comps was since fired.

Two years ago they made up a new system. Same question set up, but only 3 re-writes on only two questions. Something like 60 of 75 students failed right out of the box. It took them 6 weeks to decide this and send out the ego-bruising emails. Then they got together and realized that one of the question really, really sucked. And the most of the people who failed missed that question and one other.

I know this may seem boring and not very important, but it gets better. Or worse.

So all of this is kind of ok, so what, it’s school, you signed up for it all of that. Learn to manage your stress, you will not die, it’s just a test. However, in the meantime, students at the stage are writing their dissertation proposals and expected to begin the process of applying for internship, which is annually, nationally managed by the APA, is very competitive and has no tolerance for nervous breakdowns.

If, for example, two years ago you were in the “failed” group, this meant that you could not go on to apply for internship, which means you have to pay for classes you don’t need to maintain your student status for a full year while you wait for the internship train to roll around again.

Let’s get to this year, as that is what concerns me. This year, they changed the set up again and just handed out 4 mandatory questions. If you miss two, you are out, bye-bye, see you next year when you get to go through the harrowing process again. If you miss one, you will get some feedback and go on to the re-write. Except it isn’t a re-write, it’s a new-write, as in, you get a whole new question to answer. They said they would get back to us in 2 weeks.

Meanwhile, the old time lines are still in play PLUS a new one that requires students to have completed their dissertation proposal by May 15th (two weeks after comps) in order to be allowed to apply to internship.

So, I missed one question. They told me last week and that the new question would come out this week. Yes, this week, while I have two summer classes to attend, two papers due, client files to close at my practicum (sort of like an unpaid internship) and my dissertation to get out. Ok, ok, I understand, I am jumping through hoops, I’m cool.

Today I went in for my feedback. It was brutal. She started by saying that my writing was not graduate level at all. That my first sentence was essentially prejudicial. I admit that I cried – my emotions have been high all week and damn I just did. Not like, sobbing and all that, just tears. So then she says, “Can you even hear me? I mean, are you even able to take this in? Maybe we need to stop so you can be in a better place.” I started by saying, “I don’t really have a choice, do I?” Maybe that was the wrong answer… At any rate, I convinced her to go ahead, but later she said, “I’m concerned about the way you are taking feedback, or NOT taking feedback.” “I got it,” I said, “I understand. I don’t know what you want me to say. I don’t know why I said that,” pointing to some sentence she didn’t like, “I guess it seemed alright at the time. I wasn’t thinking, maybe. I don’t know.” She said, “Well, whatever the reason, it makes the reader feel as though you didn’t read the question.”

Here’s the thing. I am ok with her telling me where I messed up. As she pointed out each thing, I could see her point. But asking me why was stupid. Because the answer to that is always, “because it seemed like a good idea at the time.” I mean, really, ask a kid why he lied to you with chocolate on his face. What is his answer? I don’t know (it seemed like a good idea at the time!). It was obviously a mistake. Did she expect me to say, “well, I figured the readers wouldn’t really be reading the answers, so I just stuck that in as filler?” Or maybe, “I’m so stupid, I didn’t realize that was wrong?”

Here is the kicker. At the end, she said one other thing that brought tears to my eyes…I can’t even remember what it was…and then she said, “I’m sorry……if you…….feel………” and trailed off. She’s sorry if I feel. Ok. Well, today, me too.

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