Whether you’re just starting out at your liberal arts college or have already made it through a semester or two, you have probably heard the term “comps” mentioned a few times. You may have also heard it mentioned in a general academic context, possibly by someone in grad school.
But what exactly are comps? Well, for starters, the term is short for comprehensive exam. But what exactly is a comprehensive exam, and what does it mean for your education? Let’s take a look:
Comprehensive Exams: A Storied Academic History
In general, comprehensive exams, or comps, are designed to test general knowledge over a large field of study and not linked to a course in particular. They can take many forms and are generally a requirement for continuing on with a student’s education.
Comps are frequently associated with graduate school and people completing their PhD, however, there are some select colleges and undergrad programs with an exceptional standard of education, which opt for this process as a means to allow students to integrate the knowledge they have learned and demonstrate critical thinking.
At Shimer, there are two types of comprehensive exams:
Liberal Arts College Exam: The Basic Comp
After two semesters, your liberal arts college expects you to take what is called the Basic Comp. This uses a thematic approach to study which emphasizes both verbal and written skills as well as the ability to analyze and comprehend broader concepts. The subject varies between an issue, a person, a historical event or a specific text. Some of the recent Basic Comp themes have included:
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
- The atomic bomb
- The life and times of Galileo Galilee
- Leonardo Da Vinci
Liberal Arts College Exam: The Area Comp
As you may already know, your great books college has three Area Core Studies sequences: humanities, natural sciences and social sciences. Once you have completed all four courses in one sequence, you are eligible to take the Area Comp exam for that sequence. You only need to take the exam for one core study area, and most people take it in the area they are already specializing in.
This exam takes a week to complete and is designed to measure critical thought, communication skills and area knowledge. The structure is similar to the Basic Comp, however the focus is on the ability to excel in a particular area instead of an interdisciplinary one. As with the Basic Comp, the topic always changes. Here are some recent topics:
- The Enlightenment (Humanities)
- Social and Political Implications of the Rise of Communications Technologies (Social Sciences)
- Global Warming (Natural Sciences)
- The Prince of Darkness (Humanities)
- The Good: Theories of Human Motivation (Natural Sciences)
- Intelligent Design (Natural Sciences)
Are you prepared to write the Basic Comp and Area Comp exams given by your liberal arts college in Chicago?