How do I prepare for comprehensive exams?

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At most Ph.D. programs, students are required to pass at least one comprehensive exam after finishing coursework and before starting the dissertation. This exam usually consists of testing a students knowledge of the literature and of research methodologies. Here are a few suggestions to make passing this exam easier.

  • Prepare for the exam during your seminars. For each paper that you read, write a summary of the research question that is being addressed, how the question was addressed, and what are the major findings. This will save you a significant amount of time when you are studying as you will not have to go back and review each paper. After you discuss each paper, update your "what, why, how" to include any major discussion items from class.
  • Volunteer to discuss the most difficult papers in each seminar. You are going to have to know the literature and by putting in the time to learn the most difficult papers earlier in the program, you will be better prepared for comps.

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