Graduate students and professors are increasingly asking whether the dreaded comprehensive examinations, which can make or break the completion of an advanced degree, should be trashed.
Some professors firmly believe the tests play an important role in upholding academic standards, particularly in the humanities, and are needed to weed out students who have not mastered the ability to think or write critically about their field of study.
But others, including some faculty members and students, call the high-stakes tests an arbitrary, even punitive, exercise that’s purposely shrouded in secrecy and yields little evidence that real learning has taken place.
Students often fear the exams and can spend up to a year studying for them, slowing down their time to degree. Test-preparation materials often include exhaustive reading lists, making students feel as if they were playing Russian roulette as they have to pick and choose among the texts to study. <Read more.>