7 Tips to survive Comprehensive Exams for Master's degree

Last time, I wrote about "5 reasons to enroll in a Master's degree." Usually, you have to pass comprehensive exams for your graduate degree. These exams try to test your knowledge of the core subjects studied in your course. Not all programs have comprehensive exams, so be sure to check with the school or course coordinator if this is a requirement. I took my 'compre' last February, and here are my tips to do well on the exams. First, of course, if you already understood the basics of the subject and passed them, you don't have to worry much - be confident that you already know them, you just have to review.

Schedule time to study.
Often, comprehensive exams are scheduled each semester or school year. Decide when you will take the exam, so you can determine how much time you can devote to studying. Take note of the exam redo dates (in case you fail in some subjects and need to retake them).

Often, we are juggling our graduate degree with a full-time job, family, and other responsibilities. It is important to set aside time to study first before it gets taken by other priorities. You can schedule study time on weekends, before/after work, or early in the morning/late at night when no one can disturb you. It also helps to be in a quiet study area away from distractions. It can be at your local library, the public library, or one of the coworking spaces around town where you can use the space for a fee. Some who lead busy lives often take a leave from work of at least one week for focused study.

Read, read, and read.
Comprehensive exams are usually essay-type exams, where your understanding of the concepts is tested. The tried-and-tested study method is read constantly: your past lessons, important texts, and research.

Get good studying tools.
I remember that on the first subject of my comprehensive exam, my hands hurt due to too much writing and a really bad pen. So I went to the school supplies store, tried and tested several pens and chose the ones that work best and are comfortable for writing. In answering the exams, you will usually have to write a lot, and a good pen helps. Also be prepared: try and check your calculators, pencils, erasers, and correction pens if they work. These are minor things, but if you are stressed about something not working, it will affect how you answer the exam.

In the exam, I also bought clean scratch papers to write down the outline of my answers before I wrote my final answers on the exam notebook.

Study previous exams.
Don't throw away the handouts and old exam papers. Study them so you can have an idea about the main topics or how the professor gives exams.

Ask students who passed about previous exams.
You can also ask the students who have already passed about the topics in the exam or the exam style of a specific subject or professor. They can give you valuable clues and studying tips.

Consult with your professor.
Most teachers are willing to help students. Exam content and questions may change, so it doesn't hurt to ask your professor for pointers.

Practice Writing.
In answering exams, expect that you will write a lot. Most people find it difficult to write. If you hate writing, try to practice explaining through words. If the books you read have practice essay exams, you can try writing your own answers. Writing is just thinking on a piece of paper. You don't have to write flowery prose (remember, this is an exam), but being clear and concise is enough. Don't be tempted to write too much on the exam, but just enough to answer the question. Sometimes more does not mean better (except if the questions require an extensive answer). The rule of thumb is to be brief but clear.

Also - take care of your health. Even if you are reviewing be sure to get enough sleep and eat healthy. While we may be tempted to stay up late, having more sleep actually gives your brain rest so you can perform best in the exam.

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