Biostatistics Comprehensive Exams (Comps)

Have a limited amount of time to cram in a whole year’s (or two’s) of information into your brain before being tested on a large field of topics?  If yes, you may be taking comps.

These should apply to both Master’s and PhD level exams.

Quick tips:

1) Small working groups.  Over 5 is way too many.  Sometimes 1 (just you) is just fine.  

2) Planning helps.  If you plan to working with people – try to plan as much as you can to not waste time.

3) Past exams – may departments have previous exams that you can either access (from past students) or from the department itself.   Also, other departments are kind enough to release theirs online (  ( ( are some examples (Thanks Vanderbilt website).

4) Sooner rather than later.  This is the most “duh” tip and the most that is usually overlooked/not possible.  Post spring break (meeting ~ 1 / week) is a good starter to get yourself in review mode.  Finals cause problems with having everything due and comp study suffers.  It happens to everyone, just punch it when you have the freedom to do so.

5) Do at least one timed session.  It’s like you’ll run out of time or misappropriate time on the exam if you don’t

6) Drop anything else.  What’s worse than trying to cram 1 year into a short time?  Doing that and not passing.

One thought on “Biostatistics Comprehensive Exams (Comps)

  1. Love this list. #1 is super important: a perfect size group is one where you can lead as least one discussion per meeting. I would also add:

    #7: read when and what you can. For me, it was a nice break from doing problems and often gave me new ways of thinking about concepts. For statistics, I found Cox and Hinkley as well as Seber and Lee to be really helpful.

    #8. have a plan for the exam. Will you read all the questions first or work through one question at a time? What happens if you get stuck?

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