Preparing for the FMDS Comprehensive Exams

If you are a graduate student, one of the most dreaded part of your student life is the COMPREHENSIVE EXAMINATION. I just had to put that in bold and capital letters to drive my point. When I was still a graduate student, I sometimes have nightmares about the compre exam questions.


My classmates and I often scare ourselves about what possible questions would be asked in the compre exams.

But you know, all these scary talks and dreadful anticipations are really overrated.

Yes comprehensive exams are difficult. They should be difficult. But difficult is good because it forces you to prepare for the exam. It makes you more cautious instead of being too complacent. It makes you think critically and reflect on what you have learned for each course you have taken in the past semesters.

There is really no formula to ace and pass that comprehensive exams. The best advice I can give you is to prepare for it. Here are some tips which we have collated from the Internet and from our interviews with some of FMDS students.

Before the Exam:

  1. Read the program guide and find out what is expected from you. If you feel that there are some unclear areas, consult with your Program Chair.
  2. Locate your old modules, old notes and readings.
  3. Consult with experienced students.
  4. Research, research and research.
    -Read the recent issues from the top 3 to 5 journals in your field.
    -Read the references in your course guides.
    -Go to the library or ask for remote accounts.
    -Familiarize yourself with all the relevant theories in your field.
    -Compare and contrast major schools of thought in your field.
    -If you find a concept interesting, explore this further.
    -Strategize your reading… be more efficient.
    -You should prepare your arguments on the concepts you have read.
    -Keep all references. Carefully track your citations and bibliography from the
    outset. Keep your bibliography updated.
  1. Practice on your handwriting!
  2. Write notes — every day. Lots of it.
    -Organize your notes.
    -Make connections between ideas, texts and concepts.
    -Make sure your notes are comprehensive enough to study from.
    -Make a packet. Have all the information you gathered in one easily accessible
    -Take notes on all authors you read and summarize them in 25-50 word
  1. Devote time exclusively for studying.
  2. Study with other students. Share resources and advice. Form or join group review sessions.
  3. Reiterate everything you’ve learned.
  4. Take practice compre exam. Talk through it.
  5. Take study breaks – long ones.
  6. Set realistic and attainable goals and REWARDS!

During the Exam:

  1. Focus!!!
  2. Pray!
  3. Be mentally and physically prepared. Eat and sleep properly.
  4. Arrive early at the exam venue if not on time.
  5. Make sure you have everything you need. Bring extra pens.
  6. Bring food and water. Take plenty of plain refreshing water with you and stay hydrated.
  7. Take a deep breath.
  8. Read the whole exam carefully and take notes.
  9. Underline key terms
  10. Make sure that you fully understand what the question is asking for you.
  11. Answer the questions. One question at a time. Move on from questions you can’t answer.
  12. Ask questions if you need to.
  13. Organize your thoughts first before you write them down.
  14. Make an argument.
  15. In answering, do not just criticize, also present a solution for issues. Do not over analyze.
  16. Use a clear structure.
  17. Pay attention to your time management.
  18. Take a break.
  19. Stay normal and calm but serious.
  20. Make sure to review and edit your work on the last part of the exam..
  21. Spell-check and proof read. Read and re-read.
  22. Don’t leave out any important concepts.
  23. Use the last part to edit, review, revise and improve your answers.
  24. Watch your grammar!
  25. When you submit your final answers, make sure all pages are complete.

After the Exam:



  • Don’t over study.
  • Don’t review on the exam day.
  • Don’t panic during the exam.
  • Don’t focus too much on a specific subject.
  • Don’t think of other things before and during the exam.
  • Don’t memorize. Understand.
Collated by Joanna Vinas
Interview with students by Jeniffer De Pasion
Graphics by Christian C. Guevarra

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