Is This Going to Be on the Test?


You know professors hate it when you ask them this right? I had one professor in grad school who told me that his least favorite question was, “How many pages is this thesis supposed to be?”

I think he told me this because he intuited that I was just about to ask him, “How many pages is this thesis supposed to be?”

I appreciated his intuition.

When he went on to tell me that this question was his biggest pet peeve as a professor, I nodded knowingly and said something like, “I know! What an annoying question, right?! It will be as long as it will be to address the topic at hand, of course”


But, part of me felt like I really wanted to know how long the thing should be… 30 pages? 40? 100? I really had no idea. Are we talking a brochure or a tome? And, wouldn’t the length of the paper somehow relate to the depth? If it is a 30 page paper that’s one thing, but 100 pages, I gotta rethink this thing.


Now that I’m a professor I really can see both sides. It is annoying when students don’t just LOVE the material and want to throw themselves into a paper or thesis. On the other hand, it IS actually pretty ridiculous that professors get annoyed at the question, “How long should this paper be?” Or “Is this on the test?” I mean, we give you a grade for these very things, based in part on how long it is and whether you know specific material … In fact, over and over and over we have students do a “10-12 page paper on X topic due on Y date.” How can we expect students to ‘just love to learn about the topic’ suddenly?!

So, it makes sense that students are stuck on the question, ‘how long is the paper?’, or ‘is this on the test?’ …

Still, grad school SHOULD be different …

And, since you are considering this career path, now is a good time to start seeing page lengths and deadlines differently. Take your statement of purpose for grad school – yes, there is a page limit. But the page limit is for the applicant reviewers, by the way … can you imagine reading 50 of those at 20 pages each?!. Regardless, the topic is really pretty vague – left up to you to figure out.

So what should you do?

A few things that seem crucial in writing your statement of purpose:

1)      Make it interesting for you! Learn about your field, yourself and your program …

2)      Try out different styles for writing it … I recommend getting the ‘dry and dull’ version out of the way from the start.

3)      Spice it up – write an entirely goofy/cheesy hilarious version. How would your favorite character in a movie write their statement? Remember, you don’t have to send this version (and you shouldn’t!) – but get it out there to get the creativity going.

4)      Most of all, don’t see this as another dreaded paper! This statement can actually help you figure out your grad school direction. That may seem backwards, but for many people writing their statement helps clarify what they are interested in.

Finally, there is a due date, right? When the application is due!

Wrong! Don’t wait until the last minute to write this! I know, I know … years of having due dates for papers. Isn’t the due date of this application the due date for this paper?

No, take your time, write drafts, and try different things. Get a ton of feedback on it. If you have questions, post to our forum, check out our online statement of purpose course … but most of all, work to get into the process of writing.

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