What is Comprehensive Examination?

What is comprehensive examination?


In very simple terms, a comprehensive examination is an academic evaluation process that assesses the knowledge and skills of students in a particular field. In many colleges, it is a compulsory exam that must be completed by graduate or undergraduate students of some departments. Generally, comprehensive examinations are also called “comps” while graduate students call them prelims or quals.


The primary purpose of a comprehensive examination is to determine whether the student has acquired sufficient knowledge and skills to successfully complete their degree program. In some school, a comprehensive examination is a pre-requisite for graduation, for Ph. D. students.

In this article, we will explore the different types of comprehensive examination, their importance, and how to prepare for and take their exams.

Types of Comprehensive Examination

There are several types of comprehensive examination, each of which is designed to evaluate different aspects of a student’s knowledge and skills. The several types of comprehensive examination are explained below:

  • Written Examination
  • Oral Examination
  • Combination of Oral and Written
  • Portfolio Examination

Written Examination

A written comprehensive examination is a test that requires students to answer a series of questions in writing. These questions may be essay-style or short-answer questions, and they may cover a wide range of topics within the student’s field of study.

The purpose of a written comprehensive examination is to test the student’s ability to think critically, analyze information, and communicate their ideas effectively.

Oral Examination

An oral comprehensive examination is a test that requires students to orally answer a series of questions posed by a committee of professors or experts in their field.

The questions may cover a wide range of topics, and the purpose of the examination is to test the student’s ability to think on their feet, communicate their ideas effectively, and respond to feedback and criticism.

Combination of Written and Oral Examination

Some comprehensive examinations may combine both written and oral components.

For example, a student may be required to take a written examination first, and then be called back for an oral examination with the same committee of professors.

Portfolio Examination

A portfolio examination is a comprehensive evaluation process that requires students to submit a collection of their work and projects from their academic career.

This may include research papers, essays, projects, or other materials that demonstrate the student’s mastery of the subject matter.

The purpose of a portfolio examination is to evaluate the student’s overall academic achievement and their ability to apply their knowledge and skills to real-world problems.

Importance of Comprehensive Examination

Comprehensive examinations are an important part of the academic evaluation process, and they serve several important purposes.

Evaluating student’s knowledge and skills

The primary purpose of a comprehensive examination is to evaluate the student’s knowledge and skills in their field of study.

This evaluation ensures that the student has acquired the necessary knowledge and skills to successfully complete their degree program and enter the workforce or pursue further education.

Preparing students for professional practice or further education

Comprehensive examinations are also important because they prepare students for professional practice or further education.

By evaluating the student’s knowledge and skills, the examination helps the student identify areas of strength and weakness. This information can be used to guide the student’s future academic and professional pursuits.

Demonstrating academic excellence and achievement

Comprehensive examinations also provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate their academic excellence and achievement.

Successfully passing a comprehensive examination is a significant accomplishment that can enhance a student’s resume and increase their job prospects.

How to Prepare for Comprehensive Examination

Preparing for a comprehensive examination requires a significant amount of time and effort. The following are some tips for effectively preparing for a comprehensive examination:

Time management

One of the most important aspects of preparing for a comprehensive examination is time management.

Students should start preparing for the examination well in advance and create a study schedule that allows them to effectively manage their time.

Study groups or partners

Studying with a group or partner can be an effective way to prepare for a comprehensive examination. Studying in a group allows students to share ideas, discuss concepts, and receive feedback from their peers.

Utilizing study materials

There are many resources available to help students prepare for a comprehensive examination, including textbooks, online resources, and study guides. Students should take advantage of these resources and use them to guide their study and review.

Tips for Taking Comprehensive Examination

Taking a comprehensive examination can be a stressful experience, but there are several tips that can help students perform their best:

Reading instructions thoroughly

Before beginning the examination, it’s important to carefully read the instructions and understand what is expected of you.

This includes the types of questions that will be asked, the time limit for the examination, and any other important information.

Answering questions directly

When answering questions, it’s important to be direct and concise. Make sure you are addressing the question that is being asked and avoid going off on tangents.

Managing time efficiently

Managing time efficiently is crucial when taking a comprehensive examination. Make sure you allocate enough time to answer each question and pace yourself throughout the examination.

Staying calm and focused

Finally, it’s important to stay calm and focused during the examination. Don’t let stress or anxiety get the best of you, and stay focused on the task at hand.

American Colleges that Require Comprehensive Examination


In conclusion, comprehensive examinations are an important part of the academic evaluation process. They serve to evaluate a student’s knowledge and skills, prepare them for professional practice or further education, and demonstrate academic excellence and achievement.

By properly preparing for and taking a comprehensive examination, students can maximize their chances of success and achieve their academic and professional goals.

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