<h2><center>Advice for Oral Defense of Qualifying Exams</center></h2> <p>I asked a number of my predecessors in the theology program at Princeton Seminary the following questions concerning the Oral Defense of my Qualifying Exams. Perhaps their answers may be useful to others, so I compiled them below. Enjoy!</p> <h4>QUESTION:</h4> <p>Any advice on preparing for the oral defense of my qualifying exams?</p> <h4>ANSWERS:</h4> <p>I'd suggest a couple of things. First, read through your answers carefully and take notes on the sorts of objections to which they are liable. Then, prepare responses to those objections (I typed them out), and if you run across an objection to which you have no good answer, consider making that fact explicit *before* your examiners have a chance to do so. When I reviewed my ethics exam, for instance, I decided that I was in fact incorrect in my characterization of a particular figure, I spelled out the reasons why I was incorrect and wrote a corrected version of my answer, and then I sent all of that to the relevant examiners ahead of the exam date. That's what I did at least. You shouldn't worry about having to prove every objection wrong, but you should demonstrate that you can deal responsibly with whatever's asked.</p> ______</p> <p>Comp oral? Not really  it is a murky experience, even after one has completed it! I just made sure I knew what I had written. Turn the question to your advantage, i.e., answer what you know, not what is the Profs strength. Be prepared to say that you do not really know something, but this is how you might answer.... Also, I suspect that you are not marked on your comps, per se, but on the previous experiences your profs have had with you. The only thing I would watch out for is professors who analyze on the fly what you are saying.</p> <p>______</p> <p>The best thing to do is readover your written material and look for claims or statements that might naturally raise questions--especially in light of the examiner's own interests. Almost all of the questions are going to relate to or come from the text you've written, so try to anticipate what questions will be asked on the basis of what you wroteand do your best to prepare answers to them.</p> <p>If they challenge you, defend what you wrote no matter what--don't back down, even if you realize you're on a shaky limb. They want to see you stand up for yourself, not cave when challenged.</p> <p>Other than that, there's not much you can do to prepare except be yourself.</p> <p>______</p> <p>I did two things; I reread my exam answers once or twice in the days leading up to the oral exam and I repeatedly reviewed my study outlines that I had used to prepare forthe written exams. This is about as much as one can do. I found many of their questions surprising and unexpected. Others found a way to take a controversial stand in their written work in orderto anticipate the character of his oral exam, but such strategies rarely work for me. I also found the faculty generally gracious. They know you are on the hot seat and seem to have a generositythat acknowledges this.</p> <p>I wouldn't worry too much. I have no doubt that you thoroughly know the material, and this is about as much as anyone can ask of us. It was comforting for me to think thatthe oral examonly occurs once. In a way it really is an honor to be subjected to the samegruelling intellectual examthat so many great minds before us have been subjected to.</p> <p>_____________________________________________________</p> <h4>FOLLOW-UP QUESTION:</h4> <p>Should I stand strong or back-off when objections are raised or gaps identified? I've received mixed advice on that one point.</p> <h4>ANSWERS:</h4> <p>I too have received both forms of advice. I think that it better to diffuse such situations, i.e., refer to a thrid person s position in relation to the question, survey multiple forms of the answer. If they press you on your position, be honest, and prepared to say  I had not thought about it from that perspective before .You shouldn't worry about having to prove every objection wrong, but you should demonstrate that you can deal responsibly with whatever's asked.</p> <p>______</p> <p>If they challenge you, defend what you wrote no matter what--don't back down, even if you realize you're on a shaky limb. They want to see you stand up for yourself, not cave when challenged.</p> <p>______</p> <p>Yes, this is an important question. I really just followed my gut. At times I strongly defended myself and at other times I did not argue much. I think this had to do with the way certain professors interacted with me. Some seemed to be attempting to correct me rather than have a conversation. I think generally, though, the faculty want to see you give thoughtful reasons for the opinions you hold. Even if faculty were raising what seemed to be a damning critique of my position, and I thought they were right, I would still try to explain the reasons for my stated opinion, often using phrases like, "Inmy reading of this figure..." etc.</p> <p>Some professors surprised me. Some was less pointed than I anticipated and yet asked some really thoughtful and important questions. In one ofmy written answersI had taken some creative risks that I was sure would be questioned, but that was the only section ofmy philosophyexam for which there was no comment! Again, focus on reviewing your material rather than onpredicting their responses.</p>