I found comprehensive exams… easy

I remember two years ago, I was on the verge of finishing reading my list of 200 books for my comprehensive exams. I then had to prepare for three written exams and one oral exam. At the beginning of the process, I thought that taking the exams would frighten me. But no. The evening before each exam, I revised a little bit, then I dig myself into another book, a big novel this time. I was as ready as I could be. Here are tips for how I managed:

  1. Don’t wait. As soon as you have books to read, read! One book a day makes the list goes away!
  2. Organize your readings. If you have a busy day on Monday, take a little book or an article for this day. Keep the big volume for the Friday when you have nothing else to do other than reading. So you can read one book a day (see point #1).
  3. Read well. Not just the introduction and conclusion (even if I know people who did that and are now a doctor!). Because I found it’s easier to remember an argument if you really read the book, and this saved me from looking stupid in front of my advisers. That being said, normally after reading the first chapter, you can get an idea about where the author puts important information in his books, and you can go directly to those places for the rest of the book.
  4. Organize your notes. I put mine directly on Evernote, every day, with the same headlines to organize my notes. It was pretty easy after that to make a short resume on each book, and have a bigger picture of the field.

    Capture d_écran 2017-09-11 à 15.43.24
    Picture by Fannie Dionne
  5. It’s not as terrible as it seems. Really. Not the readings, not the exams. And if it seems like a walk in Hell… think about Université d’Ottawa, where PhD candidates are reading 300 books!

What helped you to pass your comprehensive exams?

Banner Photo by GradLife McGill Instagrammer @aliisonw // @gradlifemcgill

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