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Comprehensive Examination

The Graduate School requires all Ph.D. students to pass a Comprehensive Examination administered by their Ph.D. Committee. This examination is intended as an opportunity for students to demonstrate the expertise acquired through the completion of their Plan of Studyand whether the student is prepared to begin dissertation research. The Comprehensive Examination is not a review exercise in which the student reiterates information. Rather, the examination is an attempt to assess the student’s facility in integrating disparate information, responding creatively and critically to the issues raised, conducting and presenting original research, and communicating in a scholarly manner. 

The Comprehensive Examination is an individualized process in which a unique set of questions or written tasks is prepared for each student. Accordingly, the C I faculty recommends that students schedule a pre- Comprehensive Examination meeting with their Ph.D. Committee at which they discuss the topics and format for the examination to follow. The C I Graduate Program Office may assist in scheduling a room and completing the appropriate paperwork.

In C I, a Comprehensive Examination has written and oral components. The written component is organized and conducted according to the guidelines of the student’s C I emphasis area and the discretion of the Ph.D. Committee. Following the student’s completion of the written component, each member of the student’s committee reviews and evaluates all written responses. The student’s Ph.D. Committee Chair collects these evaluations and determines whether the student has passed the written component. To achieve a pass, each member of the committee must accept the body of a student’s written work as competent. If a student fails the written examination, the oral portion cannot proceed, and the committee sets conditions for the student to meet before a second written examination can be conducted. These conditions may include additional coursework. Upon successful completion of the written component, the student’s oral portion of the examination can be held. 

The oral component of the examination is designed to allow committee members to probe more deeply the areas that the student addressed in the written component, to consider the student’s understanding of relevant theory, to listen to the student’s perspectives on disciplinary issues and questions, to inquire about the student’s growth as a doctoral student, or to inquire about the student’s plans for further research. The oral component is typically scheduled as a two-hour session during which the committee actively questions the student. The oral component must be scheduled at least three weeks in advance of the examination date through the C I Graduate Program Office.

Immediately upon completion of the oral component of the Comprehensive Examination, the committee members confer to evaluate the student’s performance according to the criteria listed on the Graduate School Comprehensive Examination Report. At least two-thirds of the committee members must agree for a passing result to be recorded. Failure on the Comprehensive Examination can result in a student’s termination from the doctoral program, or committee members can set conditions for the student to meet before a re-examination can be held. All decisions are recorded on the Graduate School form, and the date of passing becomes part of a student’s record. After the oral component, the adviser should provide the student with a detailed analysis of his or her performance. The results of the Comprehensive Exam are immediately reported to the Graduate School. 

Students are responsible for arranging their Comprehensive Examinations.Students must have completed the C I core courses and all their work in the Research Knowledge and Capabilities category, must have a minimum grade point average of 3.0, and no missing or deferred grades before the oral component can be scheduled. In addition, the English competence requirement must be met before the Comprehensive Examination can be scheduled.  

The following is a list of steps for planning the Comprehensive Examination. 

  1. Meet with adviser to review the emphasis area’s approach to the Comprehensive Examination and to discuss the time frame and topics for the written portion.
  2. Schedule a pre- Comprehensive Examination meeting with the full Ph.D. Committee to be sure that all members are aware of policies and agree on topics and timeline.
  3. Set a date by which the student must complete the written component of the Comprehensive Examination, being sure to leave at least two weeks for committee members to read and respond to written material before the agreed-upon date for the oral component.
  4. Three weeks prior to the agreed-upon date, notify the C I Graduate Program Office of the date, time, and location for the oral examination. The C I Graduate Program Office notifies the Graduate School, which sets the official call for the oral portion of each student’s Comprehensive Examination. The Graduate School is not involved in the written portion of the examination.

The student must be physically present at the oral component of the Comprehensive Examination, as must the dissertation adviser and Committee Chair (possibly the same person). At least three members of the Ph.D. Committee must be physically present. Please see Policy GCAC-606 for details regarding the participation of committee members from a distance (e.g., via telephone or videoconference). 

If a student is in a dual-title program, a separate Comprehensive Examination is not required, but the dual-title program representative on a student's Ph.D. Committee must have input into the development of the Comprehensive Examination.

As per Policy GCAC-606, when more than six years have passed between completion of the Comprehensive Examination and completion of the program, the student is required to pass a second Comprehensive Examination before the Final Oral Examination (dissertation defense) is scheduled.

Once a student passes the Comprehensive Examination, continuous registration must be maintained until graduation (Policy GCAC-515).

Ph.D. Manual
Expectations, Credit Load, and Residency ○ Emphasis Areas, Dual-Title Degrees, and Minors ○ Roles of an Adviser ○ The Qualifying Examination ○ English Competence ○ Doctoral Committee Membership ○ Responsibilities of the Doctoral Committee ○ Plan of Study ○ Comprehensive Examination ○ Dissertation and Final Oral Examination ○ Procedures Concerning Graduation