A 5-step guide to passing your comprehensive exams in grad school

Estimated reading time: 22 mins (4349 words) One of the great joys of grad school is that exams are not just restricted to coursework. Nope, PhD students get to go through the fun of taking an exam that determines whether they actually get to stay in grad school. Yay! Since a few of my very close friends in grad school are preparing to go through this cruel, yet inescapable, rite of passage, I’ve decided to write up all the tips I can think of to help them out on their journey. In my exceedingly finite wisdom, I have conjured up a list of 5-ish steps to passing comprehensive exams in grad school. Since I just took these a year ago, the (painful) experience is still very much a recent memory, so this seems as good a time as any to pass on the knowledge I have gained to the next batch of students. Now, you may be wondering why I’m writing about this so dramatically. If you are, you’re probably not taking these exams any time soon. Because if you were… YOU’D BE FREAKING OUT TOO! One of the things I hate most is when I’m panicking and someone tells me to ‘calm down’ Or, even worst, when they tell me “there’s nothing to worry about”… With all due respect, I am perfectly able to decide what is and what is not worth worrying about. As is every other grad student. And if you’re about to do some exam that’s going to decide whether you do or don’t get to stay in grad school, then you, my friend, have a perfectly valid reason to freak out. So, to all my fellow grad students about to go through this ordeal: YOU’RE FREAKING OUT! I’M FREAKING OUT! BUT WE WILL GET THROUGH THIS TOGETHER!!!! You’ll have moments when you feel totally fine and in control of the situation. You’ll have moments when you don’t feel okay at all. These moments will come and go, but they are not an accurate reflection of how prepared you are, or your ability to be a good student. Accept whatever way you feel right now, whether it is good or bad. It will pass. The most important thing is that you keep going and keep doing whatever is best for you. With that pep talk out of the way, I will share with you what I think are the 5 essential steps to successfully completing your comprehensive exams.