Yesterday, I claimed the results of my comprehensive examination for master’s degree at Philippine Normal University (PNU). I took it last November 16-17, 2017, and though results were released almost a month ago, I couldn’t find time visiting the university because of my busy schedule and the holiday season.
Seriously, the exam had since caused me a little anxiety until yesterday when I was handed the envelope and felt relieved by the P-ratings across all four subject areas. Phew! I got an overall rating of P-A-S-S. I was expecting I would fail Statistics since I got no idea nor tip about it, whether in form of an essay, problem-solving, or mathematical computation – and it was none of them exactly.
Comprehensive Examination (Overview)
In higher education, particularly graduate levels, a comprehensive examination, abbreviated as comps or compre (for most Filipino graduate students), usually pertains to the rigorous evaluation that measures a graduate student’s competency within the program, and that marks the transition from coursework (or academic requirements) to writing a thesis or dissertation.
For instance, Master of Arts in Education (English Language Teaching) degree at Philippine Normal University (Manila) requires a graduate student to meet the thirty-three (33) units of coursework or eleven (11) courses before given the Certificate of Academic Completion that satisfies one’s eligibility for such comprehensive examination.
Usually, the comprehensive examination runs for two (2) consecutive or nonconsecutive days with eight-to-five schedule. For the given master’s degree program, along with other specializations under Master of Arts in Education for teachers, the comprehensive examination comes in four (4) general areas distributed across seven parts: Specialization (1 and 2), Research (1 and 2), Philosophy (1 and 2), and Statistics.
To give you a little idea, Specialization (1 and 2), Research (1 and 2), and Philosophy (2) are commonly in essay format; hence, expect a few questions to be answered comprehensively on the provided 10-page answer sheets per part (unless it’s with a computer unit). On the other hand, Philosophy (1) and Research parts are in the usual multiple-choice objective type of test.
Comprehensive examination results, unlike other exams, are normally presented in letter ratings: C (completed, already passed the earlier exam), Ab (absent during the exam), HP (high pass), P (pass), and F (fail). Interestingly, most universities allow examinees who failed an area or two a retake on the next examination season.
Although graduate comprehensive examinations in the Philippines are mostly written, other universities administer them though critical reviews of students’ academic portfolios and papers, and oral presentations. Some graduate programs do not even entail comprehensive examinations prior to disserting and thesis-writing.
5 Tips on How to Pass Comprehensive Examinations
1. Read, Read, and Read. Although most of the tests in your comprehensive examination are in essay format, you cannot just rely on your performance and attendance during critical discussions. Instead, gather all your readings and recent publications related to your specialization and read them thoroughly. You need to capture those research trends and developments.
2. Take Notes. As you do your reading, take notes of those research proponents and their contributions to the field of study. Remember that during your comprehensive examination, you need to justify your assertions and explanations with theoretical underpinnings, hence making citations.
3. Interconnect the Dots. Across all areas (except Statistics), you will be interconnecting the dots – theories, principles, and philosophies – to build your arguments, develop frameworks and concepts, and affirm implications. In other words, you will be employing the two important micro-skills, analysis and synthesis. As a bonus tip, do not ever leave an item unanswered. Strategize on how you can feed your thoughts and insights into the item even if it’s beyond your intellectual grasp.
4. Seek Tips from Experienced Students. Your graduate schoolmates who have succeeded their comprehensive examination can offer you sound tips and encouragements, from cheering you up to providing you with the actual structure and content based on what they have experienced.
5. Relax and Stay Positive. Your comprehensive examination should not stress you out that much unless you failed to prepare for it. Your coursework, alongside those submitted papers and presentations, should have prepared you thoroughly for the exam. Thus, those questions have been well explored during the sessions. After all, your university may be offering graduate students a retake for the failed subject areas.