Comprehensive Exams (Doctoral)


The Comprehensive Examination will be given after the student has completed approximately three-fourths of graduate course work and prior to admission to candidacy. This examination is preliminary to the student’s dissertation research; it should be taken late enough in a student’s academic program to permit most of the graduate work to be covered on the exam, and early enough to permit modification of the student’s program based on the results of the exam.


A written research project proposal, approved by the major professor, must be submitted to each member of the student’s Doctoral advisory committee at least two weeks before the scheduled date of the written portion of the Comprehensive Examination.


The Comprehensive Examination will consist of two parts:

  1. A written examination, administered over a period of one to three weeks, will be given at an agreed upon date. This examination will be prepared by the members of the Doctoral advisory committee at the request of the major professor. Individual committee members will prepare a set of questions and specify conditions (e.g., time limits, environment, etc.) under which the student must work while preparing answers. Individual committee members may request assistance from other faculty members in preparing the portion of the examination for which they are responsible. The exam will cover fundamental knowledge of the discipline. Parts of the exam may be in the context of the proposed research. The major professor will administer the exam with the response to each question graded by he committee member responsible for the question. In the event of a disagreement in terms of the student’s performance, the Advisory Committee as a whole may vote to decide whether the student passes or not the said exam question.
  2. If the student passes all written examination sections, the Chair will then schedule an oral examination at a time agreeable to all concerned, typically one week after completion of the written examination. On the exam, the student will be tested on subject matter similar to that covered on the written exam as he/she defends the proposed dissertation research. Typically, this exam takes no longer than three hours. The Advisory Committee will serve as the examining committee. If the student passes the oral examination, he/she is then eligible for admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree.

After passing the Comprehensive Examination, the student should file for, and be admitted to, candidacy. This must occur at least one semester prior to graduation.


If the student fails one or more of the written examinations, the Chair will convene the Advisory Committee to discuss an appropriate course of action. Among the alternatives to be considered are to administer another written examination in the area failed after giving the student additional time for preparation; to require additional coursework prior to administering an additional written examination in each of the areas failed; or to proceed with the oral examination with the understanding that appropriate remedial action will be required before admission to candidacy. If the student fails any of the written examination(s) for a second time, the student will be dropped from the graduate program. Likewise, if the student fails the oral examination twice, the student will be dropped from the program.

If a student feels he/she has been treated unfairly during any stage of the examination process, he/she has the right to appeal to the Department Head. The Department Head will review the examinations in question, seek advice from other departmental members and meet with the Advisory Committee to discuss the student’s problems. The Department Head can suggest a re-examination or uphold the decision of the committee. Further appeal procedures are provided by The Graduate School.