Shimer College

The Comprehensive Exams

Basic Comps and Area Comps: Test your mettle

The comps – Basic and Area – test your ability to integrate knowledge and think critically (don’t worry, we teach you these things first!). The comps  represent a continuation of your education as well as an opportunity for testing key educational goals.

The Basic Comp

The Basic Comp provides an opportunity to show how well you can apply all the skills you’ve acquired in the first two of three semesters at Shimer. The test is on a different theme every time it is administered and lets you demonstrate both your verbal and written skills. Passing the Basic Comp is a prerequisite to moving to the next level of study.

The subject of the Comp is usually a personage, an historical event, or an issue or text with interdisciplinary significance and ramifications. Recent comp themes include:

  • The Life and Times of Galileo Galilei
  • The Atomic Bomb
  • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
  • Memory
  • Leonardo DaVinci

The Area Comp

The Area Comp measures your progress toward the goals of area knowledge, communication skills, and high-order critical thought, as well as in more specific educational goals. You take the Area Comp once you have completed all four of the courses in one of the Area Core Studies sequences (Humanities, Natural Sciences, or Social Sciences). Students are welcome to take this exam in any of the three areas, and most choose to do so in their area of concentration.

 The Area Comp is a weeklong examination that is structured in the same manner as the Basic Comp, but testing for a high level of competency within a given area rather than being broadly interdisciplinary. Expectations for quality of writing, discussion, critical thinking, and other academic competencies are higher than for the Basic Comp.  To graduate from Shimer, you have to pass at least one Area Comp.

Like the Basic Comp, the Area Comp is on a different theme every time it is administered. Here is a sample of recent themes:


  • Dido and Aeneas
  • Enlightenment
  • The Prince of Darkness

Natural Sciences:

  • Global Warming
  • Intelligent Design
  • Plate Tectonics

Social Sciences:

  • Max Weber
  • Social and Political Implications of the Rise of Communications Technologies
  • The Good: Theories of Human Motivation