Most students find comps to be a stressful and often terrifying process. Hopefully this guide can help to demystify the process. First, remember that a big portion of passing comps occurs in the years before your comps that you spend interacting with the faculty on your committee. The earlier that you begin having serious discussions about science with your committee the easier comps will be.

Comps at UTA consist of a written and an oral component. Make sure that you discuss this with your advisor though because each committee has the freedom to customize your comps in the manner they see fit. Some comps will include a thorough sampling of basic biology questions while others will delve deeply into your planned research fields. Most students will receive a couple of questions from each member of their committee. These questions must be answered in writing and returned to the committee prior to the oral portion of the test. The written component is new to the department, so few faculty will have ready-made questions for you. Be creative and suggest some discussion topics such as reviewing an area of your dissertation research or writing an essay on the perception of science in news culture. During the oral portion you may be asked to explain portions of your answers or the faculty may choose to ask unrelated questions.

So how can you prepare for your comps?
You certainly can and should study hard for your comps. But it is also important to get comfortable with explaining science off the cuff since this is what comps is all about. To practice this you can form a group with some of the grad students who are at the same point in the program and hold mock comps. Not only do you get to practice you can see others to judge your own performance.


You should form your own list of questions that you think your committee might ask but below we have gathered a lot of questions that have been asked in past comps. Good luck!

  1. Describe the concept of and an example of a keystone species.
  2. You have two variables and want to know if there is a relationship between them what would be a an appropriate statistical test to run?
  3. Who wrote Silent Spring and what was it about?
  4. Illustrate the logistical and exponential growth equations.
  5. What is the difference between primary and secondary succession?
  6. You are driving from Dallas to Houston describe how the environment would change and what adaptations would be necessary to live in the changing environment.
  7. Describe some of differences in prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms
  8. Draw and discuss the tree of life to the best of your ability
  9. Explain the ecology of your study organism
  10. Describe to a layperson what you study and why it is important. Specifically why should the public fund the type of research that you are doing.
  11. Describe how species diversity is measured and what some of the proposed causative factors are in determining species diversity
  12. What is a trophic cascade and give a classic example
  13. Diagram and explain the development of a macrolecithal egg from cleavage to organogenesis
  14. Discuss the theory of ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny
  15. Discus mitosis and meiosis
  16. Discuss the endosymbiont theory
  17. Discuss the red queen hypothesis
  18. Discuss the court jester hypothesis
  19. What is the difference between group selection and kin selection
  20. Explain the concept of parsimony
  21. Define and illustrate apparent competition
  22. How does evolution impact human well being
  23. Explain on both the organismal and cellular level how your organism ingests food and processes that food into energy
  24. Explain evolution to a layperson
  25. You have two treatment groups with continuous variable as your data. How would you tell if there is a statistically significant difference in the two groups?
  26. What is the difference in a p-value and an alpha level
  27. Explain the difference between a parametric and non parametric test
  28. When would you want to use an ANCOVA
  29. Outline the phosphorus, carbon, and nitrogen cycles
  30. Explain the theory of island biogeography
  31. Identify and explain the expected deviations which will occur if the assumption of the Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium are violated
  32. Explain in broad terms the evolution of animalia
  33. Explain the process of protein formation beginning at the DNA level and touch on the methods of controlling the quantity of protein produced
  34. Explain the terms sympatry, parapatry, allopatry
  35. What is the difference in RNA and DNA which is more stable
  36. Using name and dates give us a time line of the major accomplishments in (biology, evolution, ecology, virology, genetics, or whatever your field is)
  37. Discuss some of the differences in the different types of cells (animal, plant, fungi, bacteria, virus)
  38. Explain the terms monophyletic, paraphyletic, polyphyletic
  39. Explain the terms synapomorphy, plesieomorphy
  40. Describe the process of constructing a UPGMA tree
  41. Describe how a blast search is performed
  42. What was the major dispute between fisher and wright
  43. Discuss Lewontin's paradox
  44. What is the difference between homologous and analogous
  45. Discus the Butler act
  46. Define natural classification how has the meaning of this term changed over time
  47. Is most evolution adaptive
  48. What is canalization
  49. Explain what determines the mutation rate of an organism
  50. What is the source of introns and why are they important
  51. What is a TE and why should we care about them
  52. Describe the different types of reproductive isolation
  53. Discuss the problems and benefits of inbreeding and give real world examples.
  54. Discuss the concept of species (are they real, how should we define them, etc)
  55. What is the snowball effect? (speciation)
  56. What is the neutral theory?
  57. What was the modern synthesis?
  58. What is meant by the term phylotypic stage what is the evidence for and against this idea.
  59. Describe the next breakthrough in your field of study that would be worthy of publishing in Science. What kinds of experiments would you include in this paper?
  60. Explain climate change to a layman, e.g. your next door, tax paying neighbor.
  61. What is science?
  62. Why is nitrogen important?
  63. What are the six macronutrients for plants?
  64. Go from glucose to ~38 ATP, include important steps and enzymes (i.e. energetic expenditures) involved in relevant pathways.