Tips for the ThM – Part 5 (concise answers)

Okay, I’m going to leave the research papers alone for a while and talk a about the oral examination. From the questions that I have received, this seems to be the one aspect of the ThM program that causes more angst than any other. I don’t actually want that to go away, a little angst is good for the soul, but let me see if I can offer some helpful comments to clarify the angst at least.

So, here’s my thought for today. When you are asked a question in an oral examination – any oral examination – just answer the question. Restrain any tendencies you might have toward verbosity, ignore your inclination to include an excursus on the theology of horticulture, and resist the desire to explain John’s use of the word “the”. Just answer the question. I think you get the point.

The problem is, most ThM students tend to say much more than they need to when answering questions. This problem comes from at least two sources. One, you’re nervous. And, nervous people try to cover their nervousness by talking more. Which, by the way, just makes you look more nervous. Be confident. If you can answer the question, do so. (Sometimes you can’t, and I’ll talk about that in another post.) Second, it’s an examination and you feel like you need to prove that you know enough to pass the exam. That’s fine as long as what you are saying is actually answering the question. But, if you are running on about things that are only loosely related to the question, it just looks like you are trying to cover up your ignorance of the real answer (or, that you simply aren’t aware that you don’t know the answer). In other words, a long answer can actually be counterproductive. It can also cause problems because a long answer introduces all sorts of issues that are now fair game for the examiners to ask you about. Keeping your answers clear and to the point makes you sound more confident and better prepared, and it also opens fewer doors for further questioning.

So, here’s how it works. We ask you a question, you answer it. We laugh at you for a while and make fun of your answer. Then we ask you another question and it starts all over again. If you can leave the room on your own two feet after the exam, you pass. It’s really rather simple. Any questions?

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on April 12, 2010, in Th.M. Program. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

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