Comprehensive Examination Information Session

On Wednesday, February 8, the Graduate Student Forum held an information session for the benefit of our students taking their comprehensive exams in March. While this is definitely a stressful process, Dr. Giesberg and former graduate student Helen Gassmann (MA, 2016) agreed to help make this process as smooth as possible. Here are some of their tips for preparing for comps!

Helen’s Tips

  • Talk to board members, don’t stress out until you talk to them
  • Create flash cards for readings, both in your concentration and in the general, overarching works
    • Include author, title, year, thesis
  • Concentration
    • Questions are derived from main themes
    • These questions are created just for you, so they deal with things that you have studied and are passionate about
  • Study with others!
  • For each question, use 3-4 works as evidence
    • Don’t just name drop
    • Make sure to know key themes and thesis of work
  • Day of:
    • Time is essential, make sure to use it effectively!
    • Bring a snack to eat, campus eateries may not be open

Dr. Giesberg’s Tips

  • Four hour written exam
    • Two hours in the morning on your concentration
    • Two hours in the morning on general questions
      • Information from theory and methods will be quite helpful
    • Two hour break in between morning and afternoon sessions
  • Concentration Exam
    • As soon as your examiners are assigned to you, go talk to them!
    • Develop a defined concentration with your examiner(s)
    • Look at your transcript
      • Which courses are in your concentration?
    • Look at previously given comprehensive exams
      • This will give you an idea of what types of questions you can expect
    • Practice these questions
      • Time yourself to help work on time management
    • Work on bibliography
      • Give to all 3 examiners
      • Bibliography needs only to cover up through Fall 2016
      • Separate works by course
      • Include primary and secondary sources
      • A format guide can be found in the back of the Graduate Student Handbook
      • When you turn in your bibliography to examiners, include your portfolio reflection
    • Afternoon Exam
      • Important to use actual evidence from books to back up theory
      • Use book concentration coursework and theoretical course work
      • Try not to repeat books across questions and across sessions
    • Once bibliography gets narrowed down, make note cards
    • Exam is 100% computer based, but scrap paper is provided
      • Exam word processor does NOT have spellcheck
        • Ability to go back and edit, as well as copy and paste, are available
      • There is no “magic number” of sources used
        • Do not laundry list
        • Make sure response is meaningful, rather than just name-dropping
        • Know authors
          • Look acknowledgements and information about authors’ backgrounds
        • Exam is taking place in Mendel Hall on March 18th
        • Concentration knowledge
          • You should have a “textbook knowledge” of your concentration
          • An actual textbook may be helpful for your studying process
            • Exam will be more thematically focused
              • Exam does not test specific events, but if you reference specific events, you should not get them wrong




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