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There's probably a lot of institutional variation in how these things go, so I'd recommend asking some upper year students wherever you are.

If you were someone getting a PhD where I got one, I'd tell you:

(1) People are usually very stressed out about this, but afterwards report that the oral exam was more like a friendly conversation.

(2) The questions on my oral exam were largely follow ups to the written exam - challenging interpretations I presented, for instance - rather than digging into random details from the reading list that didn't show up on the written exam. So "studying" was just reviewing what I'd written and thinking about to what extent I thought I was write or should change my view on some positions.

(Really, you're probably in a better position to speak to the random details than committee members that last read the articles decades ago.)


I’m not sure when such an exam will take place, but a study tip I was given was study 30 minutes a day. Craming everything for hours is not good. Studying incrementally can be effective if you have lots of time before the exam.

With the oral exam, try practicing it with a friend. Have them quiz you and you respond to help yourself get used to it.

Make an outline to help your mind process the information better. Start general first to help you compartmentalize the information. And do flashcards for memorization.

Eat healthy. Your brain is made up of neurons and electrical signals. You will need adequate electrolytes to help with neurological communication. Minerals like magnesium, potassium, and calcium function to calm the nerves and aid in cellular and neurological communication.

From personal experience, I was not getting enough of such minerals, which led me to be agitated and anxious during undergraduate. It may or may not work for you, but these are strategies and actions that helped me.


I'm not sure how the written portion works for you. I also had similar comps, and I was given a list of about 15 or so possible prompts a week before the deadline, and then 24 hours with a narrower selection of questions of which I had to answer four. I spend the week writing rough drafts of 12 or 13 of the questions, about 2 a day. When I got the narrower selection, all I had to do was pick and polish up the questions I was actually turning in. Writing the rough drafts was a lot of work, but it helped me remind myself of what I had learned and it took the stress out of the last 24 hours (I got done way early!). The oral exam was more like a friendly conversation about what I had written. Don't stress, you can do this!

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