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How to Deal With Doctoral Comprehensive Exam?

What Is a Doctoral Comprehensive Exam?

Most PhD programs will require students to complete comprehensive examinations in their field of study. As the name implies comprehensive exams are intended to cover the entire field of study. Doctoral programs generally require that the comprehensive exam be passed before allowing students to begin work on their dissertation. In many cases the exam is simply graded as pass or fail. Comprehensive exam requirements will vary between fields and specific programs but are always intended to determine whether or not a student has the knowledge to carry out research at the PhD level.

Types of Doctoral Comprehensive Exam Questions

Comprehensive examination format can vary a great deal between fields and individual institutions of doctoral studies. Exams may be written and/or oral. Written exams might be administered in a classroom over several hours or be open book with students having as long as a month to answer a number of questions. Oral comprehensive exams usually take place before a committee with the students answering questions posed to them although they may also be more informal. In many cases oral comprehensive exams require that the student defend the answers from their written exam or further elaborate on them. Many PhD programs tailor both written and oral exams to the individual student based on the particular topic they intend to do their dissertation on. Other will require students to address questions that most people working in the field could answer. Although comprehensive exams can vary widely there are some basic guidelines that you can follow to prepare for most comprehensive examines at the PhD level.

Preparing for PhD Comprehensive Examinations

doctoral comprehensive exam tips

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There are numerous formats a PhD comprehensive exam might take. The following are some basic guidelines on how to prepare for most comprehensive exams:

  • Find out what to expect: Every program is different. Do some research and find out what to expect in your particular program. Knowing what format the exam will be in and what is expected will be a tremendous help. Talk to your supervisor, your committee and other students who have taken their comprehensive exam so you will know what to expect.
  • Create a reading list: Create a list of articles, papers and other literature your exam may cover. There will likely be way too much material for you to cover all of it. Talk with your committee and professors and have them review your list. If you have taken the initiative to put together a list most will be happy to make further suggestions and steer you in the right direction.
  • Notes: Take detailed notes in class and from your reading material. Organize your notes so that it is easy to locate the information you want. Include source information in your notes.
  • Practice: Practice answering questions in your field. For written exams practice developing a thesis statement and making your points efficiently and effectively. With oral examinations practice answering questions out loud. The more time you spend practicing the better you will perform when it comes time to take the actual exam.
  • Start early: Get an early start on reviewing for the comprehensive exam so that you have enough time to practice.

Passing the comprehensive exam is an essential part of doctoral programs and to becoming an official PhD candidate. If you are concerned about not knowing how to prepare for comprehensive exams our company can assist you.

Contact us for expert assistance with doctoral comprehensive exam preparation provided by PhD degree holders in your field!