Exam dress rehearsal tomorrow

2006-04-09

in Daily updates, Oxford

Hail in Wadham

Today concluded both packing and first wave studying, with enough time left over to walk with Louise for a bit in the Wadham gardens and appreciate a couple of the brief but intense hailstorms that have been a feature of this variable day. In Shakespearean fashion, the weather is demonstrating the existence of changes afoot.

I have now re-read all my notes, all my papers, the comments on my papers, as well as many of the papers which I’ve exchanged with my classmates. I feel familiar, overall, with the type of questions being asked about the first world war, the middle east, and China and Japan. Any question on the United States would be a gift to me, since I did so much US history and foreign policy at UBC. On the theory side, I think I have a strong grasp on everything except international society – partly because it is somewhat vague as a discipline, when compared with the neos, constructivism, and such. I’d like to answer a question on Gramsci’s Marxism, because I think his ideas are really interesting.

The biggest question weighing upon my mind at present does not have to do with the content of either of the core seminars being examined. Rather, it has to do with the stylistic requirements of a formal Oxford examination. For instance, I am uncertain about how important it is to discuss the ideas of theorists with reference to their names, or whether we can answer the question in relatively non-annotated ways. In some cases, it’s easy: “As constructivist theorists like Wendt identify, the iterated interplay between states serves to constitute their identities over time,” for instance. When it comes to topics that I’ve read a huge amount about in many different sources (for instance, humanitarian intervention), it becomes almost impossible for me to remember who exactly said what. Thankfully, the questions on the qualifying tests are quite open ended. Here are some examples from past exams, courtesy of Alex Stummvoll:

  • ‘The First World War was the logical outcome of imperialism.’ Do you agree? (QT 2003/Easter)
  • Was the peace settlement of 1919 doomed from the start or was it undermined by the Great Depression? (QT 2003/Easter)
  • Was there a better case for appeasing Japan rather than Germany in the 1930s? (QT 2002/Easter)
  • Does ‘self-interest’ mean the same thing to neorealists and constructivists? (QT 2003/Trinity)
    Is it correct to say that while democracy produces peace, democratization produces war? (QT 2000/Easter)
  • ‘The expansion of international law into areas that involve fundamental conflicts of interest has usually resulted in the weakening of law rather than any real constraint on the practice of states.’ Discuss. (M.Phil 2000)

That diminishes the importance of knowing each and every fact, but increases the importance of getting the style and structure right. We need to answer three such questions over the course of the three hour exam, including at least one from history and one from theory.


  • I really wish Blogger had categories incorporated in the way that WordPress does. Then I would feel less guilty about how eclectic these postings can be. If I could mark things obviously as ‘boring day to day life,’ ‘reflections on Oxford,’ ‘world politics,’ ‘environmental politics,’ ‘photography,’ ‘literature,’ and such, people would have an easier time reading only what they care to. That said, I’ve been making an effort to separate discussions of different fields into distinct posts or sections, with comprehensible titles. Topic posts (usually without photos) are more focused than there were in previous times and daily posts (usually with photos) capture the bulk of the day-to-day stuff that some readers find intolerably boring.
  • Are there any other formatting suggestions people have? One possibility is to actually separate the substantive discussions in my area of core academic competence – world politics and environmental politics – and put them into another blog.
  • In my inbox, there are a collection of the kind of emails I am always excited to receive: lengthy, substantive ones from friends that I want to respond well to. I shall do so after the move and practice QT are done. You are not being ignored.

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