Comps and circumstance

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Students gather around to catch up on exam materials. Photo by Henry Gramling.

The fearful finale of four years

If you’re an astute observer, you might have already noticed the sudden change in academic priorities within the senior class this semester. Rather than displaying their usual joy and cheer, the anticipated graduates of spring 2024 can now be found hermitting in periodicals, the library basement or in the solace of their Old Mill apartments. You might have even heard mentions of the c-word floating down the mall and striking fear into the hearts of previously confident students.

This drastic change in atmosphere can be attributed to the senior comprehensive exams, more recognizably referred to as “comps”, that are ramping up. Each major requires its students to complete a comprehensive project that demonstrates the knowledge gained from four years at UD. Most majors, ranging from the arts to the sciences to the humanities, require a set of exams that demand a strong understanding of all courses required for graduation.

Comps are typically divided into multiple sections that are taken on different days, about a week apart. This gives students the chance to master one section of material, take the corresponding exam, and then study whatever is left.

Although many professors declare comps to be an opportunity for students to let their brilliance shine, most students have a hard time viewing comps in such an optimistic light. When discussing comps in conversation, almost every student will announce their concerns about the exam. The most frequent worry expressed is the fear of failure. Thankfully, each department allows students to retake any failed section of comps.

While comps will be ongoing for the remainder of the semester, some students already have this daunting exam under their belt. For instance, art history majors took their comps last semester, far before other students began thinking about their upcoming exams. Students majoring in business, English, physics, theology, biology and math just recently completed their comprehensive exams within the past month.

When discussing comps afterward, senior biology major Angelina Viola felt pretty confident. “I think that biology majors suffer enough in all their other classes so the department decided to cut us a break on the difficulty of our exam,” Viola explained. Other students have reveled in the positive outcome of their exams as well, including senior Lauren Engelthaler who passed the math comprehensive exam on her first try, which is very rare at UD.

For students who are still studying in anticipation of their comps, the positive outcome of their peers’ exams can serve as a beacon of hope. However, the waiting game often creates more anticipatory anxiety than anything else. Economics majors have to wait until the end of March to begin their comps, which has the potential to create the most studious spring break imaginable.

Interestingly, the University of Dallas is one of less than 50 universities in America that require a comprehensive examination for a student to earn their bachelor’s degree. Most undergraduate programs allow for students to simply complete their course load; the comprehensive exam element is typically introduced to graduate students or doctoral candidates.

So why have comps at UD as undergrads? Although they can be stressful, comps are truthfully a chance for us as students to put together all the knowledge acquired during our time here in the “Dirty Irv.” Senior politics major Aubrey Wieburg puts it best, stating, “As I’ve been studying for comps, I’ve found it to be a nice capstone of what I’ve learned through the years.” Hopefully, upcoming test-takers and rising seniors will adopt this mindset when preparing for their exams.

Until comps are on your doorstep, there is nothing to be worried about. Each department is actively rooting for the success of their students, and the university always provides support for seniors during this time. For those not yet diving into the world of studying and reviewing, pay attention in class and pray for the seniors who didn’t study.

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