When to Take the Comprehensive Exam

Prior to taking the Comprehensive Examination you must have completed at least 54 hours of course work (including courses applied to the program). These courses must include the required department core 700-level courses. In accordance with university guidelines, research course credits may not be counted toward the minimum of 54 credits needed to take the comprehensive exam. However, being well prepared for the exam is more important than number of credits. You should understand that doctoral study involves structured and independent reading and that development of expertise in a field should not be dependent solely on coursework. We expect students to read beyond their coursework.

The exam may be taken when you have completed the required coursework in each domain and when you feel you can demonstrate knowledge of the three domains. The closed-book exam, should you select that option, will be held on a designated day in October or March. The portfolio and essay exam options may be submitted at any time, however the four-week turnaround time is only guaranteed during March and October. Students completing the portfolio or essay option should submit one electronic copy of the exam to the Department.

You should make full use of consultation with your advisor during your preparation for the Comprehensive exam. Your advisor is a touchstone who can recommend resources and respond to work, however, you are also expected to consider other faculty and advanced students as important resources. We recommend study groups.

We expect students to be studying towards the Comprehensive exam throughout their coursework. It helps to keep the exam in mind when selecting topics for projects in coursework. For example, choosing to build on the same topic for each project in different classes might prepare you well for the dissertation proposal, but not as well for the Comprehensive Examination, which requires a broader grasp of the field.

Do not rush to take the exam early. There is little advantage to this for several reasons. First, writing the exam consumes much more of your time when you are barely prepared than when you are well prepared. Second, you can be developing your expertise in your field of specialization while you are preparing for your Comprehensive exam. This knowledge can help with your comprehensive exam at the same time as making the time between the two exams shorter than it might have been.