The Five Stages of Econ Prelim Prep

Up to this point, I've written mostly positive thoughts on first year (like here, here, and here.) That's because overall this year is awesome. I'm finally getting paid to study economics, something I've done on my free time for years. Training to be an economist is a wonderful experience and I wanted to highlight that in earlier posts.

However, with my end of the year exams, aka prelims, only a month away, the mood has turned. All day, every day is focused on those prelims. I have one in micro on May 20th and one in macro on May 27th.

The hours have gotten longer and the subjects I'm studying are less interesting. I've finally noticed the 5 Stages of Econ Prelim Prep.

Stage 1: Denial

For me, this stage was roughly the first semester and the beginning of second. This was the happy time of the year, where I denied that the prelims will ever come.

I went about with my business, studying as I went along. I worked hard (still averaging around 60-70 dedicated work hours a week), but I was able to study things I wanted. I read lots of Austrian economics, books on agent-based modeling, network theory, and worked on programming. Everything (well almost everything) I studied was just because I wanted to do it and I thought it might help my future research.

I denied that prelims would ever come. The date was so distant that I could ignore them for a long period.

Stage 2: Anger

Then the anger stage hit. After starting to study and memorize as much as I could, I got bored quickly. That is a problem I have that will plague me through my whole PhD. It wasn't that I thought the material not worth knowing, but only that I hated the structure of the year and prelims. It is all about memorizing definitions and theorems for an exam that doesn't matter in the end.

Yes, we should be trying to actually learn the material, but everyone resorts to a lot of pure memorization. It is not enjoyable and results was a not-so-happy Brian. The level of cursing, especially directed at books and study notes, went from almost zero to a level I'm not proud of.

One aspect makes it especially bad. The topics that need the most time to study are exactly the topics that are confusing or boring. Exactly the stuff I don't want to study, that's what I end up studying. With a full year of material, everyone will have something they find extremely boring. It's just the nature of it.

Stage 3: Bargaining

Just when I think I was about to explode, I started to bargain with myself. The material load because too overwhelming and I started to believe there is some way out.

I bargained that "I only need to study these subjects in General Equilibrium" or "I will only study for micro and spend the summer studying for macro." Whatever little deals that I could think of, I considered.

Stage 4: Depression

I am on the verge on the depression stage. (This is all relative understand. I'm still a happy, upbeat person, just less than without prelims.) There appears to be no hope. I realize that all the bargaining is in vain. Every subject needs to be studied.

There are trade-offs, as in everything in life, but now there are mostly between work and "life." The hours spent with my wife are steadily decreasing. I will not see the 2 friends I have outside of the department for another month. It is a dark time in the first year. A shadow is cast over the economics department...

Expected Stage 5: Acceptance

I assume in the week or two before the prelims I will accept my fate. That fate will likely be a summer spent studying both prelims. Oh well. Wish me luck.

One thought on “The Five Stages of Econ Prelim Prep

  1. Pedagogical studies show that these stages exemplify the process of integrating new ideas as they conflict with one's previous beliefs.

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