Candidacy Exam

Workshop: “Reading-Intensive Projects: Strategies and Digital Tools for Success

Hosted by: Melissa Guadrón & Keira Hambrick (PhD Candidates, RCL)

November 8, 2021


Reading for exams can be challenging.  The following questions can guide you in organizing your thoughts and connecting readings for exams or literature reviews. These questions were curated by Laura Allen based on exam advice from Cindy Selfe, Beverly Moss, and Margaret Price.

For each reading, try to write short responses to each question below. If you are running low on time, then do your best to craft answers for the first three questions:

  1. Summary: What is the argument and why are they making it? What is the author/ the text saying?
  2. Context: Who is this author debating with and why? What is the context of the text’s production and distribution? What historical, cultural, etc. factors affect the way it makes meaning? Does the author seem to be in conversation with other scholars and/or paradigms? Where is this piece of writing centered in the field? What is their intervention in the literature/field? What text is this text in conversation with?
  3. Application: How does apply to my work? Does it support or provide a counterargument or model for strong intro or lit review? In other words, why is this piece of writing useful to me and/or how is it limited (bad writing style, problematic, didn’t consider x, y, and z)?
  4. What questions do you have about the text?: What are some of your most significant notes? Be sure to be detailed with your notetaking (i.e “This makes me think of…”)
  5. What are the key terms in this text?: A) What terms are key to the author’s argument, and are they operationalized explicitly or implicitly? See if you can paraphrase the meanings of key terms. B) Look up stuff you don’t understand or just need to refresh yourself on the meaning of.
  6. Narrative: What’s the narrative about the field that’s emerging from the reading? What narratives are silent? Whose voices are silent?
  7. Highlight or mark key quotes–but proceed with caution. It’s too easy to fall into the habit of letting quotes speak/think for you. My usual habit is just to mark these, but not to engage with them too much unless I’m positive I can easily paraphrase the idea. If it’s a quote that seems cool but which I am not sure I’ve fully grasped, I’ll mark it and note, “Think about this more” or “Is the author saying [xyz]? Not sure.”

Other things to keep in mind:

  •  Draw connections to your own ideas in the margins. Don’t let your own critiques crowd out your effort to understand the author’s argument on their own terms, but do note your ideas.
  • If you feel yourself drifting away or otherwise losing your grip on what’s being said, put the article/book aside and see how much you can paraphrase in plain language without referring to it. I like to get the book/article *way* out of my field of vision, move to a new spot, and then try my paraphrase–sometimes with a friend.
  • Keep a running list of “to-dos” as you read–e.g., sources you want to get, current projects that need notes added. Since I’m usually a paper-and-ink person, I generally keep my list on the first page of whatever I’m reading.
  • Keep a list of names that keep coming up. Think about pulling a short article if the name comes up a lot