Ph.D. Comprehensive Examination

Upon the successful completion of all required coursework, the candidate must pass a comprehensive examination.

Comprehensive Examination, Part 1:  Thesis Proposal

The student is required to submit to the doctoral committee a thesis proposal; the student should consult with all committee members during the writing of the proposal. The proposal usually includes:

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

Students should consult with their chairs about the specific format. The student must circulate the proposal to the committee and obtain the chair’s approval before arranging a presentation of the proposal (part 2). Typically, students should expect to produce several drafts before the chair decides that the student can move to the proposal defense stage. Proposals usually will be approximately 25–30 pages (double-spaced). In some cases the chair may ask that a student complete a larger, more comprehensive literature review related to the problem or research question, and this longer version could be attached to the proposal as an addendum. Committee members will evaluate the student’s proposal in preparation for the proposal defense.

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). EDTHP faculty members will contact the student’s committee chair about any concerns before the proposal defense.

Comprehensive Examination, Part 2:  Proposal Defense

The second part of the EDTHP comprehensive examination consists of a 90‑minute to two-hour thesis proposal defense (oral comprehensive examination). Typically, soon after the start of the exam, the committee will confer about the proposal without the student for about 15 minutes. The student then is called back in, and then usually gives a brief presentation. The committee may have questions both during and after the presentation.

This portion of the examination is a Graduate School requirement and is scheduled through Graduate Enrollment Services (GES). It is administered and evaluated by the doctoral committee; all members of the doctoral committee, including any special members, must be present for the oral comprehensive exam. A favorable vote of at least two-thirds of the committee members is required to pass. The result of the oral comprehensive examination will be sent to GES and entered on the student’s official academic record.

The student will work with the doctoral committee to establish the date and time of the proposal defense; the EDTHP staff assistant will reserve a conference room when the student provides the confirmed date and time and will process the appropriate paperwork through GES. GES requires notification two weeks in advance of the oral comprehensive examination.

Second Comprehensive Examination (if needed)

When more than six years have elapsed between the passing of the comprehensive examination and the completion of the program, the student is required to pass a second comprehensive examination before the final oral examination can be scheduled.

Minimum GPA

At the time the comprehensive examination is administered, the candidate must have a minimum grade-point average of 3.00 for work done at Penn State.