One of the biggest academic hurdles for Wabash seniors — comprehensive exams — is officially here.
Senior Comprehensive Exams, also known more commonly as “Comps,” are the considered to be the ultimate final at Wabash College. Required for graduation, comps are separated into two exams: written and oral.
During oral exams, a student is set in front of a committee of faculty members — one from the student’s major department, one from the minor department, and one member-at-large. The professors ask numerous questions regarding their major and minor, as well as varying topics that may be related to the student’s view on his liberal arts education.
We know seniors can spend hours planning and studying, and that the exam can often bring on mixed emotions of stress and then relief when it’s all done.
Wabash alumni and faculty offered some advice on how to best prepare for the process and ace comps.
“Spend about an hour a day during break studying old material. That worked out for me just fine. Do not get discouraged during your orals if they start asking you harder questions. They’re doing that because they think you’re doing well, and want to see how much better you can do.” – Leo Warbingtion ’22
“If you don’t know your board members, go to office hours before and introduce yourself. Also, remember no one wants you to fail. They’re challenging you, yes, but they’re also rooting for you.” – Adam Kirsch ’07
“Get a good night's sleep. You can’t cram for comps at the last moment. Go Little Giants!” – James Ashbaugh ’75
“Read at least the front page of The New York Times or Wall Street Journal (you get digital subscriptions to both for free through the library) or The Washington Post for a couple of weeks before comps. Think about how what you’ve studied for four years relates to a current topic.” – Rob Shook ’83
“Let your personality bleed into oral comps. Know the criteria, sound coherent, but really try to be yourself. Most faculty will gravitate toward someone who is thinking critically but in their own way. Ask for feedback the following week as well.” – Tyler Ramsey ’21
“Confidence. ‘I’m a Wabash man and I know I can.’” – Ashley Stephen ’07
“The only answer is to put in the work. If you don’t put in the work, you won’t do well. If you put in the work, it may still be rough but you will be OK. Don’t try to BS in oral comps. They will see right through it. Talk about what you know.” – Jason Saunders ’96
“Study everything you have. Nothing is off the table. Take time to talk to your oral comps board, if for no other reason than to ease your mind.” – Steven Bazin ’18
“Read every test, paper, study guide, and lecture note you kept over your four years. You’ll realize how connected all the disciplines you studied actually are, giving greater flexibility in how you can respond. Also, your board will ask about something random covered for just one day.” – K Andrews ’10, Director of Annual Giving
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions during oral comps. Whether you need clarification on a topic, or you need to ask for a brief moment to collect your thoughts, you never know how asking a simple question could benefit the conversation!” – Ryan Wagenblast ’19
“Trust the education you have received in the past three plus years, and be yourself.” – Paul Blair ’81
“It’s not about what you don’t know. It’s what you do know. Touch up what you do know and make sure you know it well. The things you aren’t sure or confident of study to know just enough to where you aren’t blind. D.O.T.S. Don’t Over Think S---.” – Nikko Morris ’21
"Expect boomerangs. If I say, ‘What is a key concept in ______,’ be prepared to talk about that topic for the next several questions.” – Professor of Chemistry Ann Taylor
“If a professor asks you to choose your favorite class, text, or theory, choose one you can talk about, with evidence, for five to 15 minutes.” – Associate Professor of Psychology Eric Olofson