Ph.D. Comprehensive Examination, Part 1

The Ph.D. comprehensive examination is a formal process required for all students seeking a doctoral degree at Penn State. The process has both written and oral components and typically begins near the point when the candidate has finished coursework and is beginning to develop a researchable dissertation question. A degree audit should be completed to ensure that all necessary coursework has been completed before scheduling the comprehensive exam.

Although the Ph.D. comprehensive examination process often runs parallel to the dissertation proposal approval process, the two processes are not necessarily synonymous. In other words, it is possible for a student to pass his/her comprehensive exam without having a dissertation proposal approved. It is possible, however, for the two goals to be attained simultaneously. 

Comprehensive Examination, Part 1:  Dissertation Proposal

The student is required to submit to the doctoral committee a written thesis proposal; the student should consult with all committee members during the writing of the proposal. The proposal is a shortened version of the first three chapters of the dissertation. This usually includes:

  1. a statement of the problem or research question,
  2. a focused literature review, including, if appropriate, an explication of the study’s conceptual/theoretical framework. 
  3. a study design, and 
  4. a plan of analysis, including a methods section

After the chair decides that the student is ready to advance to part 2 of the comprehensive examination, the proposal defense will be scheduled by the student and doctoral committee (see next section). EDLDR faculty members will contact the student’s committee chair about any concerns before the proposal defense.