How to Prepare for a Comprehensive Exam

how to prepare for comprehensive exams

Most schools and graduate degree programs allow students to face either a comprehensive exam or a thesis or a graduate project before giving a post-graduate or master’s degree. This could be an oral exam or a written paper exam or both combined.

Now even the word comprehensive exams sound scary – I know, but like they say preparation can get rid of that anxiety within minutes. So, let’s find out how and what you could do to prepare for comps and get the best score possible.

1. Take Notes

Well like in any other exam taking notes and referring them often can help you study the content of the program you are enrolled in. You can either use a notebook, spiral book, or digital note-taking apps like Evernote to take notes with the best note-taking strategies. This would also help you know the literature better and give answers accordingly in the comps.

2. Revise

Taking notes and stockpiling them won’t help anyone – so you better start referring them before taking the comps. Doctorate students we talked with said they were at least revising the notes once a week until they grasp the content better and then at least a month before comps start.

3. Exam Form

There are multiple ways that a comprehensive exam for a master’s or doctorate can be given – such as oral form, written exam or both combined. Find out what kind of exam you are getting – this will help you prepare for the exam much better.

4. Requirements

To take the comps you have to fulfill some requirements such as completing coursework, reaching the minimum GPA, and sometimes finishing a doctorate residency. This can vary depending on the school and the program – before preparing for the exam, find out if those requirements are fulfilled.3

5. Literature

Knowing your literature would be extremely helpful in the comps exams. Find and read through the literature and take notes about arguments made in the papers, contributions, what matters and doesn’t, when the piece was written, and what happened before and after it was written.

6. Learn from Others

Consult your department handbook or committee chair to find out more details about your exam if possible. Also, you can also get some comps exam tips from previous doctorate candidates if possible which will be a great help for you.

7. Role Plays

Think like a committee member for a second – and get into the role for a couple of minutes at most. Create a list of prompts and questions that you might get asked – then prepare answers for them. This might help you think about what you need to be ready for.

8. Practice

If you get an oral exam – then preparing for it by practicing questions and answering them aloud would help you grasp the content much better. Even for a written test going through notes and reading them aloud would help you remember necessary content faster.

9. Rephrase

Don’t be in much of a hurry to answer the questions – yes, there is a limited time to answer questions but hurrying things only make matters worse. So, rephrase the questions multiple times if needed before answering them throughout.

10. Quietness

Well, you don’t have to know everything to get through comprehensive exams – so when you were asked something you don’t know or out of your educated area’s context- say the words “I don’t know” or “I haven’t thought about that”. Do not always be on the defensive and be quiet when asked something you don’t know – it will never help you in comps.

The Conclusion

Except for cumulative tests, the word comprehensive exams can sound scary to many students. But to get a doctorate or master’s passing comps is necessary. Preparing for the comprehensive exam before will help you get through the test without much worry and anxiety.

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