How To Prepare Yourself For Comprehensive Exams

Comprehensive examinations are usually known as ‘comps,’ their shortened term. While some undergraduate students from certain departments and institutions are required to take them, they're more common for graduate students. The thing about comprehensive exams is that they're generally perceived as scary. Even just the thought of taking them makes some students feel anxious and nervous.  

But it doesn't have to be. You just need to know the best habits and strategies to adopt, such as using helpful study guides or taking online courses like the ones offered by Kathleen Jasper. Once you follow the best practices, you’ll feel confident and ace the test. 

Read on to learn more about how you can prepare yourself for comprehensive exams.   

Gather All Details About The Exam  

A crucial factor in preparing for comprehensive exams is gathering all the details. You might have received some updates from a classmate or a friend, but don't depend on that information alone. It's imperative to check your graduate handbook, or better yet, ask your professor about it. Learn about the exact date, location, precise room number, and how many examiners will take the same place and time as you.  

Plan how you’ll get to the venue. Ask your other graduate classmates if your school or class provides any transportation mediums. By determining these critical details, you’ll feel ready on exam day and have ample time to seek transportation and organize your study schedule.

The next information you need is the types of exams included in your comps. Basically, exams may come in both written and oral forms, and some programs prefer both. Try to find more details about it, the formats, and what type of essay questions to expect. If you can, figure out how the grading system works too.  


Create An Effective Study Plan And Schedule  

If you want to do well in preparing for your comps, you must create an effective study plan and schedule. Consider the number of months or weeks you have left before the big day. This way, you’ll develop a well-organized study schedule.  

Moreover, you’ll get to apply a suitable study approach when you know how far or near the date of the comprehensive exam is. Though some students don't usually prepare for the exam early, preparing late is inadvisable. Even if you're a fast learner that prefers to cram for a test, you should avoid procrastinating. Since cramming is absorbing a load of information in such a short time, you’ll only feel more stressed and might panic or experience anxiety. So, this isn’t a reliable approach to take. 

As you form your schedule, plan your study sessions in more detail by searching for online courses and helpful study guides and attending study groups. Choose study topics and make sure each session focuses on one or a few subjects. 

Lastly, build study habits that last. Using an ideal study place, taking breaks, avoiding distractions, and spacing out your study sessions are a few good study habits to follow. You can work for 50 minutes and then treat yourself to a 15- or 20-minute break. Pick a comfortable place to study, such as your room, library, or favorite coffee shop. Minimize distractions by switching off your Wi-Fi if you don’t need it and turning off notifications on your phone. Instead of cramming, space out your study sessions up to several weeks or months till exam day. This means briefly reviewing the material weekly, so you’ll be able to remember the information long term. 


Seek Others' Advice  

Another effective strategy is to seek others' advice. You can learn more about what to expect from your comps when you talk to experienced people. Consult your committee chair, advisor, or professors if possible. They might share some helpful advice with you and give you an idea of what comps are usually like.

If you know some senior graduates, don’t hesitate to approach them. Ask how their exams were structured, what sort of questions came out, and how they prepared for their exams at that time. Take down notes, so you won't miss any invaluable tips.  


Practice Answering Mock Exams  

Lastly, practice answering mock exams. Do necessary research by referring to different resources at the library, conducting online searches, or visiting labs. 

If you’re going to have oral and written comps, practice answering both formats. Always verify the instructions first, read and understand them, so you won’t overlook crucial points. In addition, make it a habit to re-read before answering.   



Comprehensive exams are part of earning a degree. Preparing for them can be stressful and challenging, but if you form good habits and take advantage of great resources like study guides, you’ll gain confidence and feel ready for anything. 

Besides, you don’t have to study on your own. Reviewing and sharing notes with your classmates or friends can make studying fun. 


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