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Re: Advice for Qualifying Exams
I just finished my quals and got the results (I go to a T20 school). I would have appreciated more information from recent first years going into all of it, so I'll try and post my thoughts. I would qualify it by saying that I think any advice is program and indeed professor dependent.
Originally Posted by Double Jump
The first thing I would say is that you should really understand your professors style. I had professors who had tests that included almost verbatim past year questions and others that designed completely unique and indeed thought provoking questions. Studying for tests designed by these two types of questions is very different. I got a lot of advice along the lines of "just do AS MANY PROBLEMS AS YOU CAN." This is solid advice for some professors who reuse questions, but it can be a major waste of time for others. Use finals and midterms to figure out which professors are which, and adjust accordingly. For some professors study time is best used mastering intuition. Others it is mastering a set of techniques. Others it is memorizing cute algebra tricks.
For me personally, I found very little value in reading a massive number of texts. I found much more value in discussing problems with people.
A lot of people online and in person say something to the effect of "you'll have no life your first year." This is generalized advice. Maybe it is true for some people, but I think for a person of average preparation it is possible to live a balanced life. I think part of this is just realizing that studying has diminishing returns, and you just won't learn everything to the level you want. I accepted this my first quarter and had a really enjoyable second quarter. Admittedly I let this mentality go a little far third quarter.
Learn how to handle a question you can't answer. I took a lot of exams that had one or several questions (by questions I mean like a whole third of a test sometimes) that I could not adequately answer. The times I accepted this, moved on, and tried to convey my understanding as best as possible were when I did best. I found sometimes that a little intuition can go a long way, to the point where you can sometimes get the answer without the math. This won't give you full points, but it'll get you some and it's honestly a better skill. It's also good to realize that many economic models were built to capture observations about the real world. And the famous ones are ones that also yielded interesting additional insight. In this way the math is often "rigged" to go a certain way (ok this is a little harsh, but I think rigged gets the idea across).
Finally, from my discussions with international classmates in my American program, a big hurdle is question interpretation. Many problems, especially professor designed game theory questions can be really hard to interpret. Since many problems are multi part and are designed to "work" mathematically only one way, interpretation is probably a huge thing to study, especially if you are a non-Native English speaker.