Second Language Studies/ESL TIPS AND TRICKS

An introductory guide

Now here are some tips and tricks from former ESL students who have successfully passed their prelims, either recently or several years ago

Advice from the experienced ones

Anonymous PhD candidate
If you’re trying to decide whether or not to take the year-long paper option, start off by asking yourself this question: do you have a fairly good idea about where you’re going with your dissertation? If you do, then it’s easy to write papers that will be useful to you down the road— something that you can use directly in your prospectus and dissertation. If you don’t have a clear idea, though, it’s best to stick with the more traditional short answer exam. Assuming you are relatively clear about your dissertation and you choose the year-long paper option, it’s crucial for you to check in with each of your prelim readers often. Let them see your work often, rather than waiting to give them an entire draft. If your thinking doesn’t match your reader’s thinking, it’s best to catch the mismatch early, before you’ve gone too far in the wrong direction. Anonymous PhD candidate Prelims?! I never thought I'd hear that horrible word again! Here are two pieces of advice for the year-long prelims that are sort of obvious, but are very easy to neglect: start working on the prelims right away, and try fulfilling a personal quota of work every day. As a (semi)independent researcher, it is far too easy to put research and writing off until later, and to let things slide into the future. Being able to be productive early not only gives you more time to revise the prelim if necessary; it will also serve you exceptionally well when you move beyond the other "P Word" (prospectus) into the dissertation.

Martha Moraa Michieka, Purdue ESL Alumna, Assistant Professor, East Tennessee State University
It will depend on the prelim option one chooses. Both options have their advantages and I believe the choice is based on each individual's circumstances. I did the year long prelim and that is what I can comment on. Due to its flexibility, the four paper prelim option gave me an opportunity to read widely on my dissertation topic and prepare for my research. I was also able to pace myself and complete the prelims on time. A word of caution however, a year sounds like a very long time to write four papers but once the clock starts to tick, and you are teaching a class and maybe still taking some courses, days move faster than one can think.

-Discuss the prelim options with your advisor and with post prelim friends. -these are exams so try to create time to work on the papers like you could with other exams.

-Set clear goals/ dead lines for yourself and push yourself to meet them. It might sound like a good idea to ask for extension of a dead line and maybe our very kind and understanding professors will give you the extension but they cannot extend your official prelim time.

- The paper option does not have to take you a whole year, you can finish much earlier.

- Aim at turning those four papers into publications. I wish I did that.

Brita Banitz, Purdue ESL Alumna, Universidad de las Américas Puebla, MX
I guess the advantage of the exam is that you can get through it quite quickly (if you study hard, of course) and get on with your work for your dissertation. The disadvantage is that you waste a lot of time studying for that without being able to use your knowledge in your dissertation. At the same time, the disadvantage of the prelim papers is that you spend a whole year with them, you might have to revise and re-revise until they are accepted; so it could take actually longer. The big advantage that I see is, and that's exactly what I did, to already know your dissertation topic (in agreement with your advisor) and actually write those four prelim papers on your chosen topic and then to simply include those papers in your dissertation. This requires a LOT of careful planning beforehand, but it'll also save you a lot of time in the long run.

Scott Baxter, Purdue Alumni, Lecturer, University of Minnesota
I took the exams rather than write the papers. For me, that was a good choice. I spent the summer reading and studying, and was done with them and ready to move on to the prospectus in the fall. Studying for the exam was pretty straightforward. There was a reading list I got from Jill Quirk. I read all those books and took detailed notes. I went through my notes and materials from classes too, but reading the books on the reading list was the most useful thing for preparing for the exam. There were four areas that corresponded to the core courses, and there was a fifth question that demanded a longer answer. I was able to suggest two topics for this. I would say that it would be most helpful if you pick a topic as close to your planned dissertation topic as possible. This is the area of the exam you have the most control of and it is to your advantage to shape the topic to resemble your dissertation area.

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