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Senior Comprehensive Exam

"There is no form of prose more difficult to understand and more tedious to read than the average scientific paper."*

The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry requires senior majors to take a comprehensive exam as part of the University graduation requirements.  This exam is written and graded jointly by the faculty, and is based upon a paper from the primary literature.  Separate exams are written for the chemistry and biochemistry majors.

Two attempts are offered each spring semester; you must pass the exam once.  If you do not pass in the two attempts, the next time you can take the exam will be in the following spring semester.  In other words, you should take this seriously and devote sufficient time to preparation!  Grading of each problem is based upon a 0-6 scale, where 0 is assigned to a blank or nearly blank question. Scores of 1-3 are considered various shades of failure, and scores of 4-6 various shades of success.  Each problem is graded by two professors, and all scores are averaged to reach a total.  You must receive an average of at least 4.0 over the entire exam to pass.

 The paper is available two weeks in advance of the exam date.  During the two week period, you should try to understand the paper as thoroughly as possible.  It will likely take you several readings to get all the meaning.  On your first pass through the paper, you may not get very far.  Don't be discouraged!  Allow enough time to prepare and take it in chunks, asking questions and looking up information as you go along.  Treat this as though this was your research and you were going to present it to faculty members:  You need to understand what the methods were and why they were used.  Focus on the diagrams as well - they are an expensive part of publishing and usually aren't there unless they are important.  What is each one telling you?  What are the reasons for the research?  What are the conclusions?  Do the authors' data support these conclusions?  How?  What is the logic?  Basically, you need to try to become an expert on the paper just as if you were one of the authors.

After the two week window, you come in and take a three hour exam. During the exam you will be provided with a "clean" copy of the paper.  No notes are allowed. Exams are 7-10 p.m. on the indicated dates.

Spring 2014 Dates - Chemistry Comp Exams
Chemistry Paper Available Chemistry Exam Date
Friday, January 31, 2014 Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Wednesday, April 2, 2014 Wednesday, April 16, 2014

 

Spring 2014 Dates - Biochemistry Comp Exams
Biochemistry Paper Available Biochemistry Exam Date
Friday, January 31, 2014 Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Wednesday, April 2, 2014 Wednesday, April 16, 2014

 

A sample chemistry comprehensive exam may be downloaded by clicking here.  The original paper that the exam is based on is here.

A sample biochemistry comprehensive exam may be downloaded by clicking here.  The original paper that the exam is based on is here.

*Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul (1995), xiii