Comprehensive Examinations

The Comprehensive Examination covers a minimum of two substantive areas. It is designed to ensure that students are adequately prepared to begin their doctoral research. The examination typically serves to consolidate an area of knowledge or to fill a gap in the knowledge base required to conduct the research and write the dissertation.

Students must successfully complete one question in each of the two areas. For example, questions could be designed to fulfil two of the following: building a literature review, developing a theoretical framework, and/or explicating a research methodology.

The supervisor and members of the supervisory committee, in consultation with the student, will determine the number of questions to be addressed, areas to be examined, and format for the examination.

Normally, the two questions are set following the successful completion of all course work and prior to developing the dissertation proposal.  Each question is usually set and examined by the committee as a whole, or by an individual member of the supervisory committee. However, if the committee determines that specific expertise outside of the committee is required, a question may be set and examined by someone external to the committee.

Each examination question may be completed either as a formal examination or as a take-home exam:

  • Formal Examination: The student is given a specific area to study prior to the examination. On a day and time, determined ahead of time by the supervisor and supervisory committee in consultation with the student, the student will complete the actual question under formal examination conditions, i.e., with/without notes, length of exam etc.
  • Take Home Examination: The student is given a written question and is asked to develop the response in the form of a written paper. Although this may vary depending upon individual circumstances, the student is usually given two-three months to complete the paper. The length of the paper will vary, but is typically 20-30 pages in length, excluding references. The student may be asked to make minor changes before the paper is accepted.

Each question is graded pass/fail. A student who is deemed to have failed a question will be required to retake the formal exam, or rewrite the paper.

Following successful completion of each question, students are normally required to give an oral presentation and answer questions based on the work being examined. Students may choose to hold a separate presentation for each question or combine them in one session. The presentation is usually held with the committee only but may be open to guests at the discretion of the student and committee. The Assistant Dean of Graduate Studies, Interdisciplinary Studies, usually chairs the oral presentation.

The School of Graduate Studies (SGS) requires that members of the comprehensive examination committee indicate the outcome of the examination by signing the comprehensive examination form.