Comprehensive Examination > Study Suggestions from Fr. Theall's Study Suggestions
- Answer the question that is on the examination -- not the question you wish had been asked instead, nor the question that some sixth sense told you to prepare for that is not on the list. In order to do this properly, read over carefully the five questions given each day and take a few minutes to decide which ones you are best prepared to answer.
- The comprehensive questions are designed to be broad in scope and to cut across narrow subject lines: it is normally expected that you draw upon materials from several courses. If, for example, the question deals with the nature of "professionalism" in librarianship, you should indicate several areas in which the librarian is given an opportunity to show that he/she is really a "professional". Above all, do not single out one particular area and dwell on that to the virtual exclusion of all other aspects of the problem. The professional librarian, for example, in the selection process must take into account aspects of censorship and intellectual freedom -- but selection involves much, much more than that.
- If there is a question involving a topic about which you have strong personal feelings (and censorship is a good example), take care not to be overly emotional, to the point of irrationality and incomprehensibility. You are perfectly free to disagree with what faculty have said about, e.g., the purposes of the American public library, the responsibility of the public library to serve youngsters doing homework assignments or their parents solving puzzles, or the vexing problems of censorship. But what you may say must be factually sound, logically defensible, compatible with professional (and professional association) policies and standards, and enunciated with civility toward those who hold other views.
- Even if it means spending a bit of time making a preliminary outline of your answer, see that it is characterized by unity, coherence, and logic - and ideally proper grammar, syntax, and spelling. The comprehensive examination is supposed to give evidence not only of the acquisition of factual material - names, dates, expressions of library philosophy, etc., but also of the ability to synthesize these things and express this synthesis with reasonable clarity.
- In answering any question, it is expected that you be able to cite two or three books, articles, or other sources with which you are familiar that bear on the subject, ones that are truly relevant. Though full and exact citations aren't expected, be prepared to mention things you read (by author and/or title or even "a recent article in Library Journal on X topic" - we don't expect you to have full and complete citations memorized). It's something faculty look for when evaluating answers. A weak answer with appropriate references to the literature may pass where an equally weak answer without relevant references will fail.
- Finally, and perhaps the most important of all: do not dismiss a question in three or four paragraphs. Even allowing for time to choose questions on your strong points and to make a brief outline of your answer, you still have more than an hour to write on each of the two questions. It is impossible to lay down quantitative requirements, but I don't see how any single question can be answered in very much less than a thousand words. Don't resort to such devices as extra-wide margins, spectacularly large fonts, etc. This is not to say that you are to "pad" your answers or use irrelevant "filler" material. When you feel that you have fully answered the question, stop. If the question seems trivial to you and deserving of a short answer, remember that, though one faculty member may have formulated it, the entire faculty approved it for inclusion.
Some Additional Advice from Dr. Sydney Pierce:
Read through the textbooks and readings currently being used in core courses. Questions drawing on the content of these courses always appear on comps. 600-level electives--especially cataloging, collection development, and management--are normally covered too, so review any you've taken. I also suggest that students who have time might browse through a year of Library Journal and/or American Libraries, reading articles on current professional concerns.
Find a study group, or create one of your own. It's not only more pleasant to go through this with friends, but you also learn more by discussing material with others.
Review and try to answer questions asked previously-- available here --but don't go back too far. Questions are written by current faculty and reflect current content of the program. For some very good advice on taking essay exams, see the Purdue OWL [online writing lab] web site at http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/general/gl_essay.html