How to Study for Comprehensive Exams: Free Guide

Why Might You Need Our Help with How to Study for Comprehensive Exams?

graduate levelGraduate level comprehensive examinations are generally held after completion of all the required coursework and are intended to test the student’s grasp of their chosen field of study as a whole and their ability to communicate an understanding of it. Normally taken in 2 stages: written and then oral, the PhD comprehensive exam is used as a barrier to separate graduate course work from the dissertation phase. The purpose of these exams then is to ensure that a student is ready to advance to doctoral candidacy and go on and write a dissertation academic paper.

How to study for comprehensive exams is a subject which is always on any graduate student’s mind, almost to the point of distracting from learning the subject. Almost all master’s and doctoral programs require students to take comprehensive test. The cumulative assessment is exactly that to test the candidate’s eligibility to continue to earn their respective degrees; comprehensive, intended to cover the entire field of study. It’s a big deal and your performance on the exam can make or break your graduate school career says Tara Kuther, Ph.D. writer @ ThoughtCo

Professional Advice on How to Study for a Comprehensive Exam

academic paperPreparing for Comprehensive Examinations can often be a challenging task and are different from any other that are likely to be undertaken in a student’s academic career. So in preparing for a comprehensive exam, the objective is to gain as much knowledge as possible so that you can demonstrate an ability to incorporate the readings and think analytically about them then engage in a central debate. The following PhD comprehensive exam tips will help to show what is expected and provide some good suggestions to get prepared:

Find out what you’re up against

Not all exams are the same; some will demand more preparation than others so in order to make the most of your time, analyze each exam’s characteristics by finding out how much it’s worth, what the format will be and what your professors recommended study guide is (if offered). Comprehensive exam questions in research methods answers can be tricky so to be forewarned, is to be forearmed!

Plan a realistic study schedule

It’s important to attend all of your classes prior to the final exam in order to find out any additional last minute information. Maintain a healthy balance between work and sleep and eat healthily. While schedules look good on paper, their success depends on the ability to stick to them. This means you have to start avoiding distractions and allocate that time to study during the day.


While most people may choose the library to study, this may not always be the best choice. Study space should be a quiet and comfortable area where there are no distractions. Turn off mobiles and social media sites.

Methods for studying

The best way to practice for comps is to get hold of as many PhD comprehensive exam sample questions as you can. The easiest way to achieve this would be to find comprehensive exam questions from previous year’s tests. Most professors will have copies of these along with comprehensive exam sample answers already included to help with revision.

Focused study groups also allow you to compare and discover new information about the exam, as well as helping each other learn the material through detailed discussions.

Take breaks during a study session. When helping students with how to study for comprehensive exams, the Academic Skills Center at Dartmouth College recommends employing 20-50 minute study sessions accompanied by a quick break in order to maximize your memory, concentration, and motivation.

Certain foods can naturally boost brainpower. Research has shown that blueberries, wild salmon, nuts and seeds, avocados, whole grains, beans, pomegranate juice, freshly-brewed tea, and dark chocolate can maintain a healthy brain.

Be creative in your study sessions. Find different ways to apply new information that will help it stick to memory. This may range anywhere from drawing diagrams to turning concepts into acronyms. While reading out loud seems farfetched, anything that helps you remember information will work. Choose a technique based on your own learning style.

Keep a positive attitude

Notes taken from a meeting between faculty and graduate students @ The University of Oregon

While studying may seem unbearable at times, it’s important to remain positive throughout. Reduce test anxiety by taking breaks when feeling frustrated, exercising or talking to a friend. Having confidence in yourself and your abilities combined with learning how to study for comprehensive exams from guides like this will get you through the toughest of times. Remember, all work and no fun can be hard on anyone, so make sure to reward yourself when it’s all over.

Experts at the Old Dominion University, Virginia reinforce that:

As a scholar prepared to embark on independent thesis work, it is important that you demonstrate an ability to effectively articulate your own views. The comprehensive exam is not just about knowing the literature. It is also about demonstrating that you can think about international issues critically and come to your own conclusions. Avoid wishy-washy answers that simply describe some of the ideas extant in the field and then conclude that they are all correct. Take a stand and defend it with appropriate theoretical, analytical, and empirical material.

List of PhD Comprehensive Exam Sample Questions from Previous Tests

candidate's eligibilityIn order to give you an insight into the kind of comprehensive exam questions you can expect to face when taking the written element, we have provided a the following links that cover a range of different fields. These are free to download and are a valuable learning tool in showing you how to study for comprehensive exams by giving you the opportunity to answer the questions yourselves but in a more relaxed atmosphere:

Pearls of Wisdom through Even More PhD Comprehensive Exam Tips

The department of mathematics and statistics faculty at California State University tells us:

Do work through old Comps… Problems occasionally get repeated, and broad methods and themes often get repeated. Also, sometimes you are asked to prove classic theorems, so it may be worth memorizing proofs of these, as long as you understand what you are memorizing.

The college of social and behavioral sciences @ The University of Arizona suggest that:

Well before your written exam dates, confer with your committee about the kinds of questions to  anticipate. Don’t be afraid to seek out specific advice about the exams you’ll take, and to indicate what areas of the field especially interest you.

Tips offered by students who survived the experience @ the School of Journalism, University of Missouri make it clear that:

Nerves are the only thing that will kill your performance. Go in with an attitude that YOU ARE READY AND CAN DO THIS. If you’re calm, you’ll find the exercise provocative, even cathartic.

Advantages of Learning How to Study for Comprehensive Exams with Our Experts

We understand that any form of assistance offered by our professional services should be to the highest standard in order to ensure you get the best quality of information and advice to help you pass the exam. By carefully matching you with an expert who has a profound knowledge of subject areas, we always aim to achieve and exceed all your expectations in the work we produce so you will come back to use our services in the future.

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