As the second year of my doctoral program winds down, I find myself staring at a rapidly approaching, substantial hurdle: comprehensive exams. If you have already taken (and hopefully passed) comps, do you have any advice for the rest of us? How did you prepare (if at all)? What is the comps procedure in your program?


7 Responses

  1. At Clemson, comps is an exhausting two day affair. We sit in a room with only a laptop (with no networking capabilities) and a couple of comp questions. Basically, each day consists of 3-4 questions to be answered in an eight hour time frame. The questions cover:

    One on research methods (e.g., positivist versus interpretivist, knowledge epistemology)

    One on statistical methods (e.g., multivariate, structural equation modeling)

    One where you are asked to review a paper that would be submitted to an A-level journal

    Two that are customized to the student’s research area

    Three to four more that deal with various IS topics

    My colleagues and I are scheduled to sit for the exam during the final weekend of July. About two weeks later we will have to take oral exams (basically a follow up to the written exam).

  2. Wow Nick, the exam sounds really involved! Best of luck! and thanks a lot for sharing your experience with us! It is really informative to know how important stuff like comps works in other schools.

  3. That’s sounds somewhat similar to ours. We have one 8 hour day with 4 questions, then a more involved 48 hour take-home question.

    Here are my 3 main pieces of advice:

    1. Remember that the faculty is on your side, they want you to pass. They’ll give you the benefit of the doubt as long as you give them something to work with. Prepare well, but don’t freak out about it. All those folks ahead of you somehow passed, didn’t they? 😉

    2. Practice the conditions as close as possible to those of the exam. Practice writing 90 minute answers. Practice writing 2 in a row. It’s like training for a marathon–start doing long runs.

    3. Comps is about showing what you know, not showing what you know authors of papers know. Yes, you need to review papers and “know your stuff” but in the end it is about developing your own opinion about others research. It is about being able to express your own ideas about what is in papers.

    Of course, every institution is different… YMMV (your mileage may vary). Talk to students at your business school (not just your department) who took comps in the last few years. Find out what worked (and didn’t work!!) for them.

    Oh, and one final piece of advice:

    4. Talk to all the professors in your area for advice. Then ignore most everything they say about how to prepare!! They took comps somewhere else many, many years ago–they don’t have a clue how to prepare. They may give you some helpful advice on what will be on the test, but they are highly unlikely to have good advice on how best to organize your time to prepare. Talk to fellow students about that. [Still, make sure to talk to profs–it’ll enlist them that much more “on your side”.]

  4. Steven, that’s the most involved comment I’ve ever seen! It’s actually quite informative. What do you think about turning it into a post?

  5. Hmmm… maybe so. Or, I certainly won’t mind if someone else did. They could add an appropriate introduction, quote my stuff, and add some more of their own advice (or reactions)… any takers?

  6. Steven, that is useful advice. Many thanks!

  7. I passed the written portion of my comps! Yea! On to orals!

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