Dr. Marvette Lacy Ph.D., (she/her) is the founder and CEO of Qual Scholars where she helps higher education folks finish their dissertations and start a profitable consulting business.
In this episode, Marvette talks about how to adequately prepare for your exams by getting clear on what you need to succeed and making sure you conserve your energy for your exams. She also gives her biggest pieces of advice to pass the test.
Hey friend, the time has come to finish your dissertation, graduate and become doctor. Welcome to office hours with Dr. Lacy where we talk about how to finally master this time management thing so you can stay on top of it without losing your mind. Every Wednesday you can find a new episode wherever you listen to podcasts, make sure you hit the subscribe button to make sure you never miss an episode. I’m Dr. Marvette Lacy your dissertation writing strategist here to be with you along every step of the way. I would like to thank you for coming to today’s office hours. Let’s get started on today’s episode. Hey, how’s writing going? I know you don’t like the question, but let me tell you, when you join the finish your dissertation program, you will love that question. Clients often report feeling excited and joyful to go into their process even before they even get to the dissertation process, and that’s what I’m inviting you to do. I’m inviting you to come inside the group and join us so that you can get the structure you need and the tools that will help you to show up consistent and disciplined in your process. All you need to do is come on over to Marvette lacy.com/apply and sign up for the wait list and you will be the first notified when doors are open. See you soon.
Welcome back to a new week on the podcast. Y’all this is my third time attempting to record this episode because little Sir, my puppy is just today. He wants to make all the noise and do all the things. I am very excited that he is in a great mood, but it does not make for great recording environment, but that’s all right, because at the end of January, I will be moving to a new apartment with two bedrooms with my own office and I get to leave sir outside. And I get to record things without being interrupted by him, by trains, you know, like, listen, it’s been a long journey with all this noise, but we gonna make it and you probably still hear him, but I put him outside because, you know, we, we, we need to talk, but I am having just a great November so far, I’ve been resting and I wanted to record these episodes in real time. I don’t know. I just feel like it was my, maybe it’s my way of just staying connected to the business. Cause it’s the one thing that Alex, my podcast manager cannot yell at me about because I’m supposed to be taking a break from business, all business things, but you know, the podcast has to come out y’all and it’s my way to be connected.
Cause I can’t fully just disconnect. I enjoy spending time with y’all even if it is like on this episode, I know that y’all are talking back to me. If you’re anything like me, you talk back to the podcast episode, it’s a relationship. It’s real. There are so many people I listened to that I’m like if I ever met them in real life, they would probably think I was a little bit strange because I would just talk to them like the best friends that I believe them to be in my head. You know, anyway, I am just enjoying, you know, just the, just this time away. The sun has been out more often. If you are from the Midwest or spent any significant time in the Midwest, then you know that around this time of the year and throughout the winter, there’s this like permanent cloud of greatness that just comes and it never leaves. And when the sun does come out on the rare occasion, it is usually freezing like negative temperature freezing. And today is I think we’re like in the 40’s like low forties and I’m going to take it cause it’s not freezing. So yeah, that’s what’s happening with me.
Client Spotlight: Micah Miles:
Today’s client spotlight is Micah Miles. Micah is just a joy, a lover of all animals, a lover of just love and light and just a beautiful spirit. Micah started, I knew of Micah. She attends the university of Georgia and that’s where I did my PhD work. And I knew of her while I was there. But I don’t think we really had a conversation. I am an introvert, like an introvert introvert. I do not understand. It’s not that I don’t understand it. I’m just not a thing of small talk. But I will sit there and talk to you about your deepest, darkest fears. But If you want to, you know, talk about like the weather or something random. I don’t want to do that. I don’t know. I’m not trying to be rude. I just, I don’t like small talk, but not to say like Micah was trying to make small talk. I’m saying that to say that usually when I’m in social settings, especially with a group of people that I don’t know, or I’m not as familiar with, I’m usually quiet. I’m very reserved. You may be really confused when you meet me.
Cause you’re like, that’s not how you come up on social media. It’s just that we’re talking about. We’re not having small talk on social media. Right? And so I say that to say like, I would see Micah, but I don’t know if we necessarily had a conversation. My earliest memory of having a conversation with her was at my graduation party. I had a joint party with good friend, Dr. Joan Collier and Micah attended. I believe that we talked, you know, like congratulations and things of that nature. And we stayed in contact over social media after that. And I, you know, the dissertation business took off and talking to people about what it takes to finish your dissertation. And she gets on a call with me because she was having trouble getting her master’s thesis approved by her advisor. And she wanted to also start her dissertation because she’s in a program where it’s both masters and PhD together and she wanted to do a qualitative dissertation. And she’s, she has a STEM background and didn’t know qualitative is not necessarily a thing. I mean, I feel like it’s growing, it’s emerging. But definitely the culture is deep in like, Nope, postpositivist quantitative research. And we had our first call and I told her, here’s what you need. This is what you need to do to get it approved. And you would, I think, like I told her exactly what to say or what email to write.
We talked mostly of the time when I’m talking to clients, I’m talking to them about mindset. I’m talking to them about getting very clear on what do you want? What is your goal? Beyond Yeah everybody knows you want to finish your program, but like, what is your goal here? Like how do you want to finish your Program. Because her advisor was looking for certain things and she didn’t agree with him. & I was saying, does this matter? Like if you can take a step back, does it matter that you disagree with him? Like will this matter? Like in a year, two years, five years, 10 years. And what is your bigger goal is your goal to graduate or is your goal to win this battle? And a lot of times what I think about personally, when I’m getting coached really hard, what comes up for me in order for me to let go of something that I feel very strongly about is I asked myself, do I want to be right? Or do I want to achieve this goal? And that’s the question I will let you take with you to bless your spirit. Do you want to be right? Or do you want to be doctor? And so having a conversation like that with Micah and saying, do you want, do you want to get to the dissertation or you want to hang into this thesis, give this person what they’re asking for. Right? Cause it’s not the be all end all. It’s not going to affect like jobs or publications or just get, just make the changes that they’re asking for.
And so she did that, got it approved something that she was trying to do for months. Got it approved, was able to go to her graduation for her master’s program and start her like her dissertation work. And Micah has been showing up. She went from someone who would come to our group calls and being like, words our data because you know, she’s trying to understand qualitative research. To someone who is over here explaining all the qualitative terms, she is like a qualitative researcher extraordinaire over here. Okay. Like going into her defense, telling her committee, explaining concepts, explaining why she made the decision. She made explaining what she’s going to do and like why she’s going to do it and doing it with like, you know, all the confidence. Now sure she maybe listening to this and be like, but I feel scared on the inside, but you don’t know that. She showed up like a boss. Okay. And passed that defense and is now moving towards data collection and finishing things up. And I could not be any more proud of her. Like she is just, just if you ever have the pleasure of talking with Micah. You are in for a treat and for an experience, it is like none other and you just, you cannot help it. But to smile around her or laugh around her or just want to just like hug her. And I know we’re all in these like Corona times and be like, I’m not hugging anybody, but I promise you that it’s just, that is just her spirit. And so I just wanted to love on her a little bit in this episode and celebrate her journey because I want to say she might be the client who’s been with me the longest.
Yeah. Cause she signed up and I believe it was 2018. I just absolutely adore her. Absolutely enjoy working with her. And so definitely come on over to Instagram and show her some love on her posts because we do every time we do a client spotlight on a podcast, we also spotlight them on Instagram and inside of our Facebook community. Qualitative Dissertations made simple. And so just send her some love. Send her some love.
Today’s Topic: Preparing for Comps/Prelim Exams:
And it is perfect that she is the spotlight for today’s episode, because we’re talking about how to prepare for your preliminary or comprehensive exams, whatever your program calls them. And I remember sitting down with Micah and helping her prepare for her exams. And she was like, yeah. You know, most people, most people focus on, okay, okay. What are the notes I have to take? Like, what are the things I need to read? What are the things I need to memorize? Like you focus on the content and because you focus so much on that, you’re not fully prepared for your exam process. So let’s take a step back. And at the beginning of when you are preparing for them, or even if you are in the middle of it, here’s some things to think about. What is the process? I’m assuming that because a pandemic stuff that most exams are happening as a take home, right? You want to get really clear. What does this exam consist of? How many questions will you have? Are you able to use notes? Are there practice questions that you can get from people and like example answers or could your advisor provide some feedback. Right? I feel like most people ask those questions, which is why I’m going through that so quickly. But you do want to get very clear on what is of you and what does that going to look like? Is this going to be a four day situation? Is it going to be a month situation, right? Because this matters in the next part of the conversation that I’m going to have with you. Right?
What Do You Need To Be Okay?:
So once you get clear on that, then you want to say, all right, for the duration of my exams, when you’re actually sitting to do the exams, what do you need to be okay? Right. Because this is going to be a very intense period. Most people think like, Oh, I’ll be fine. I can just continue my daily work. No, your brain, your brain uses the most calories of anything out of your body. Especially when you’re doing something that is not a part of your everyday routine. You are burning so many calories and you are using so much energy. And so something so simple as fixing yourself, something to eat will become the most challenging thing while you’re doing your exams. And so what I asked my clients to do is to think about, okay, what do I need to set myself up? So, number one, where are you going to take these exams? Like the physical location? Where are you going to take it? Do you have a home office? Are you thinking about doing it in your room, your bedroom, right? Like, is there somewhere else you’re going. Wherever that location is what I highly encourage you to do is to not necessarily decorate, but make that space very conducive to you being able to focus and write.
I’m a person who loves a good candle or diffuser. I’m someone who needs music. I need a jug of water near me and I need my desk area to be clean, cleared off. I mean, I preferably like to look outside the window when I’m writing and it doesn’t necessarily have to be quiet, but I don’t need anyone to talking to me. So I have to be away from people. What is it that you need? And this is a time to get very clear about that. Because again, the less, the less your brain has to work, the more you can have that energy towards your exams. Okay. So handle your designated space, I’m not saying you need to go spend tons of money, but something like, is there a picture of your favorite author? Like if someone who inspires you, do you need to be like me and have a picture of Beyonce up somewhere? Like maybe you have, where’s that affirmation somewhere. Maybe you have a loved one who has passed away and they give you strength like put their, put things up. Like almost like a mini I dunno, altar or like a collage or something. Because these things matter. They give little small cues to your subconscious.
What Are Your Basic Needs?:
So set up your physical space then two think about, okay, your basic needs, your basic needs. Right? So getting very clear on, when will you stop working every day while you’re doing these exams? I think these, these tips are helpful for regular life. Let’s just go with it. When will you stop working? So when I was doing my exams, I had a cutoff time of, so my exams were over four days and I had to physically go into the building and write for four hours. And so my plan was that I would allow myself to look over my notes for the next day, but I had a hard cutoff, right? Eight o’clock, like, I couldn’t do anything, but watch TV or go to sleep. So what is going to be your cutoff time that all work ceases. It doesn’t matter where you are. If you feel like you can keep going, what is going to be your cutoff time, who is going to hold you accountable to that?
So if you live by yourself, my suggestion is have like your momma, your friends, somebody to call you every day at eight o’clock to ask you, did you stop working? Because here’s the thing. A lot of people want to help you during your exams, but they don’t know how to help you. And you can give them something very simple to do like, Hey, call me every day or on these days at 8:00 PM and make sure that I’m like checkin in with me and that’s going to be my accountability to stop working. People want to help you. I promise this will be a theme throughout this. People want to help you allow them to help you, but you need to give them very clear instructions on how to help you. So somebody could help you Like by calling you every day. You’re going to have to eat. We, we’re not going to leave this up to like, Oh, I’ll just figure it out. No no no, what are you going to eat? Are there people who could make you feel food or drop off food or who will get food delivered to you, particularly your, your dinners or like your lunches and your dinners. Cause I feel like maybe breakfast is easier, but like, is there someone who can make a batch of food? There are a lot of apps out here used by like new moms to like have their friends and families send them food and you can organize it and send it out. Please like just do a quick Google search.
So many of them will come up, but you can even send that out and arrange that and say, Hey, I’ll be taking exams over these two weeks. I really would find it helpful. If you could either make me food or send me foods. Here’s the information. Here’s my address. Like the, the apps and websites walk you through how to do all of that. But if you do live with somebody could you have a conversation about them, maybe making a big batch of some things that you can have something to eat because I promise you when you get done writing and the deeper you get into your exams, you’re not going to want to think about food and you sure you can order Uber, but I don’t know how your pockets are set up. Do you want to spend that amount of money? Because it will be an everyday thing. It will be something that you will do, because you won’t, you won’t have the energy. So thinking about what are your, what is your food like your main meals? What are, what is that going to look like? What are your snacks going to look like during the writing process when you’re working on your exams, what do you want to eat?
Like make these decisions ahead of time. Right? Like during my exams, I think I drank so much hot chocolate because I didn’t think to bring snacks. And there was like a little convenience store at the bottom of the building and the hot chocolate was good and I ate that and m&ms. Now, if I was probably more intentional, I probably would have had like fruit and stuff or like trail mix. But that’s just what happened. So learn from me. What type of snacks do you want to have while you’re writing? What’s going to give you the most energy, right? Cause this is all about managing your energy through this process. What, what type of snacks can you get that earlier? Can you order that and have it shipped to you again? Can you ask somebody, yo auntie, somebody to drop it off at the door if you don’t want them inside your house again, Corona times. Right?
So thinking about that, what are you going to wear every day? This might seem like a strange one. Again, if your brain has to make a decision, you’re not going to like the decision it makes when it’s tired. I, I mean, this is kind of like still true to today. But I had like a uniform that was for me, for my exams and for my dissertation, I knew every day that I was going to wear a pair of Leggings, a long sleeve t-shirt. I’m laughing at my ridiculousness and I just knew that I needed to. That’s what I needed to wear. And I had one section of my closet where those things were. I didn’t had to think about making up no fancy outfits or putting on no makeup. No no no, my brain needs all its energy towards these exams. You might be a little bit like more together than I am. Right. But I, I highly suggest that you have a uniform. I promise you. This served me so well during my exams and during my dissertation now sure. People probably said, I look a mess, but I felt good. It was something I felt good in. And when I felt good, I showed up differently to write. What’s going to make you feel good while you’re writing what outfit or like uniform could you have, right? Because when you get up and you know exactly what you can, you’re going to wear you, don’t got to think about it. You don’t got to go through the closet and like, I don’t have anything to wear. Nothing fits. You don’t gotta do all of that. You know exactly what you’re going to put on.
And I guess I need to say this too. What you’re not going to and to do is roll out the bed in your pajamas and wear that and write. That is not going to do nothing for your energy. There is something about waking up, taking a shower or whatever, doing your routine and putting on a different set of clothes. Even if the different set of clothes is just another pair of pajamas. It’s something about the act of putting on clothes that tells your brain, okay, we’re going to work. And that is probably a trap that a lot of you have like settled into quarantine is like waking up and just being like, I mean, who’s going, see me? I just put on a little cute shirt for the zoom call, but you probably like didn’t brush your teeth. Didn’t wash your face. Didn’t change the shoes. Right. And no, I’m not no sh no shade, no shame about it. I’m just telling you, if you want to be more intentional about your energy to like change your clothes. Remember it don’t gotta be nothing cute. Just the physical act of changing your clothes and having a uniform during this time. Okay. I think y’all got it.
How Do You Want To Show Up For Your Exams?:
So we talked about your space. We talked about your foods. We talked about accountability. We talked about your uniform. I think that’s it in terms of basic needs. The other thing that I would do or suggest for you to do is spend some time every morning. Again, we’re talking like three to five minutes. I do this, like when I’m still in the bed. Okay. And I just close my eyes and I imagine myself, how am I showing up for today? So when you know, taking my exams, it’s like, how do I want to show up for these exams? How do I, how, how do I want to feel when I’m writing the answer to the question, right. I want to feel like, Oh, I know this. I don’t need to dig through my notes. I know exactly what I want to say. The words are just flowing out. I’m a get done enough. Cause it was a four hour period. And I’m going to answer the question, right? That’s like, I just visualize myself doing that, visualize myself, sitting down, visualize feeling Like I imagined what it was like to feel the keyboards on my fingertips. And I imagined like being in, in my body of what it felt like to be on, or like to be in flow, to be confident about what I was writing. And I just did that for a few minutes. And when I showed up to do that, my exams, my brain had already been primed for that. And so it was easier for me to get into like start writing. So I highly suggest that you try that out.
But Did You Answer The Question?:
So those are the base, the basic needs, as far as like preparing for your exams and to pass them the biggest piece of advice that I could give you. And most people probably give you: answer the question before you go on about this theory and this person answer The question that was asked to you. You may be like, well, duh Marvette isn’t that the whole point of the exams, you would be shocked How many people don’t answer the question. They tell you everything. They dump everything from their brain about everything they ever read, but they never answered the question. The answer should be so clear that nobody has to guess. And I would go further to say the answer to the question should be within the first paragraph, do not make your reviewers tried like do some like deep investigation and trying to figure out what your answer is, make it very clear. Be very direct and answer the question. Put the question in the answer. So I know that it’s your answer. I’m going to tell y’all something that the people won’t tell you. The reason why most people don’t pass their exams or don’t pass a question is because your, your answer is not clear. People can forgive a lot of things. They can forgive typos. They can even be like, okay. Yeah, you’re writing’s not the best. They can forgive that you left out some stuff. What They can’t forgive. If they can’t read it, read it. If it’s, if it’s too complicated to read, make it easy for them.
Start off your first paragraph. Answer the question in the first paragraph. Use the rest of your paper, your answer to like expound on your answer. But answer, the question. Be very clear. We’ll need your like fluffy writing. We don’t need flowerly language. We need you to be very clear. I can not stress this enough. Be very clear, biggest piece of advice. Second use headers use headers. And the headers should Help me understand, like should connect back to your answer. I should be able to skim your paper and get a sense of what your answer is from your headers. Use them. Nobody wants to read just long stretches of paragraphs headers on your paper. And then the third thing I would say is save time, save more time than you think to go back and review and edit your document. That’s the other thing people like to just brain dump out answers. And again, it goes back to it not being clear and confusing, and not organize at least 20 to 30% of your time that you have allotted for your exams needs to go towards you editing and working on formatting. Again, people can forgive if you didn’t add in every reading or you missed a citation, but they can’t forgive if it is difficult to read. So that is what I would say with that.
You Know Enough:
And then I’ll end on this, you know, way more than you think you do. Like, I cannot stress this enough. You have been a student in this program for years. You have done the reading. You have done the like dialogue with friends and peers and cohort members and class members. You have talked about this information a lot, you know, so much, you know, so much. Focus on the things that you feel the most confident about. Make sure those things are very clear and concise and you will pass your exams. People don’t want you just to throw out information at them. They want to know what you think they want to know, like your argument. And that means that you don’t have to know everything. So I’m saying this to say like, don’t push yourself and stay up all night and do all these things. Cause you’re trying to memorize a bunch of information that you’re not going to memorize any way. Cause you don’t really like connect with it. Instead of taking the approach of here are the things that I know really well, these are the things I’m going to focus on and this is what I’m going to build my answers around everything else. That’d be nice. I can talk about it. Maybe if I get feedback, I can bring it up in the oral exam part, but I just, I’m gonna just focus on making this a very clear answer of the things that I know the best from my argument, from my point of view, that’s the whole point of becoming a doctor.
You are the expert. People want to know what your arguments are. People want to know what your philosophies are. They don’t want to know that, you know, all this like facts. They want you to be able to say your point of view and make it like relatable or assessable to them. Your exams is a perfect place to practice that. So I just hope that if you take nothing else from this episode, take that, you know everything right now, you know enough right now to pass those exams. And the only thing that would get in your way is you stopping yourself. Is you being like, I don’t know, I’m not sure, but if you go in there and you do the visualization and you go in there believing, like I know these things really well and I can answer this question using these things. That’s all you need. So those are my tips for you as for exams and preparing for the process. I would love to know your thoughts about this episode. Come on over to Instagram at qual_scholars and let us know your thoughts. You can also come to qualitative Dissertation made simple the Facebook group, and we always are having a discussion about each week’s episode. There’s always reflection questions and the conversation continues over there. And I’m sure that people would love to help you with any tips or help you find any readings that you may need or any support over in a group. That’s going to do it from me. I’m going to go to a coaching call for myself and I will talk with you all next week. Bye for now
Join Finish Your Dissertation!:
Hey, you ready to take this work further? Then it’s time for you to join the finish your dissertation program. Finally get the tools, resources, and structure. You need to show up consistent and disciplined in your process. All you need to do is come on over to MarvetteLacy.com/apply and join the finish your dissertation wait list. I’ll see you there. Bye for now. Thanks. Thank you for joining in for today’s office hours. Make sure you come on Instagram and tag me at Marvette Lacy. Let me know what your thoughts were on today’s episode until next time. Do something to show yourself some love. I’ll talk to you next week. Bye for now.