How to Prepare for the Comprehensive Exams

This is the first of a three part series focused on providing students with information about completing the Comprehensive Exams and writing a Thesis, in order to help them decide which route they would prefer. The first two parts will provide tips from professors and students regarding each and the third will consist of a broad overview comparing the two options.

ImageAlmost from the very start of Graduate school, fellow students talk about how incredibly difficult the Comprehensive Exams are going to be. This makes preparing for them seem like an insurmountable task. Below are recommendations, gathered from professors and students that will hopefully break down the preparation process into more manageable steps:

  • Keep all books, readings and notes from class – use as references when studying, but don’t only rely on your notes or memory from the class, regardless of how recently you took the course.
  • Start refreshing your mind with readings as early as possible – this allows you to ease your way back in and you will feel less intimidated by the amount of material you need to cover.
  • Create a study timeline with weekly goals – whether you aim to read one article per day or review notes regarding a certain amount of material each week, this will help you pace your studying.
  • Re-read each article and take new notes to supplement your initial readings – focus on the main points of the articles rather than taking super detailed notes.
  • Don’t limit your review to readings that you liked or think were more prominent – the exam is comprehensive and requires more than just a general understanding.
  • Create a study guide once you’ve re-read all of the material – narrow it down to the most saturated and crucial points you need to take with you into the exam.
  • Create flash cards or a smaller, more compact version of your study guide – keep this with you at all times to review whenever you have downtime.
  • Meet regularly with other students taking the exams – take turns explaining articles to each other and collectively answer questions as you go.
  • Meet with the professors from each of the courses on which you will be tested – this will help you better understand their expectations and talk through any areas of the material where you might need some clarification.
  • For areas that limit the number of meetings with professors (for example Quantitative), review as much as possible before your first meeting, which should be used to review your understanding of the material – save your second meeting for closer to the exam to address any remaining questions that have come up as you continued studying.
  • Use what you have learned to analyze and evaluate an issue and critique assumptions – this is why you need to have a strong knowledge of the material.
  • Know the proper vocabulary necessary for addressing each question – this will be vitally important during the actual exam to demonstrate your understanding of the material.

Adequate preparation is essential to your success on the Comprehensive Exams. And while this may seem easier said than done, adequate preparation is not as impossible as it might initially appear. By taking the process one step at a time and efficiently planning your study time, preparing for the exams can become less of a task and more of an opportunity to reflect on and synthesize everything you have learned over the course of your time in the program.

The tips offered above were supplied by Dr. Gordon Coonfield, Dr. Heidi Rose, Dr. Jie Xu, Ms. Kat Biehl and Ms. Marci Paton.

For additional tips and announcements, follow the Communication Graduate Studies Department on Facebook and Twitter.

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