Comprehensive Exam Process


•Determine three discrete areas of study
•Establish chair and supervisory committee members, including the Graduate School Representative (external member)
•File Plan of Study•Meet with supervisory committee to discuss exam process/evaluation criteria, roles of each member, and timelines
•Create/confirm reading lists with each committee member; supervisory committee approval of all reading lists
•File Notification of Scheduled Exam (two weeks before exams begin), listing dates for the two timed exams (a week apart) and the oral exam meeting (at least a week later)
•Complete two four-hour timed writing sessions (a week apart)
•Evaluation of timed writing responses during oral exam with supervisory committee; with supervisory committee approval, student earns PhD candidacy

Specific Steps
1.Determine three areas of study you will cover in the comprehensive exam.
2.Determine the chair of your supervisory committee by contacting that person to see if he or she will agree to be your chair. This person may be your adviser, but need not be.
3.Work with your chair to clarify your three exam areas and to discuss faculty members who might serve as the primary examiner in the other two areas. Your chair will be one of your examiners. You will also work with your chair to determine who will be the Graduate School Representative (external member) of your committee. In total, you will have four members on your supervisory committee.
4.Contact prospective examiners to serve on your committee and to work with you in developing a reading list in a specific area. Also, with your chair, contact the GSR/external member to see if he or she is willing to be on your committee.
5.When you have commitments from all four supervisory committee members, file your Plan of Study with the Graduate School.
6.Schedule a preliminary meeting with the committee to discuss the exam process, including question design, evaluation criteria, roles of each member, and timelines for completion.
7.Work with your established supervisory committee members on creating reading lists. In most cases, the student generates an initial list and then works with the faculty member to add and delete readings.
8.Send the combined reading list (divided into areas) to the entire committee and ask for/receive committee approval.
9.Read and study, take notes and memorize. Consult with supervisory committee members, as needed.
10.When you near completion of your study time, contact your committee to schedule the exams and offer possible times. When you have an agreement on times, fill out the Notification of Scheduled Examination form at least 2 weeks before exams begin.
11.Exams should be scheduled/taken during fall or spring semesters. Exams follow this process:

  • In your first four-hour session, you will write essays or other responses to a set of questions provided by the committee
  • A week later, in a second four-hour session, you will write essays or other responses to questions provided by the committee
  • After the committee has had time to read all of your exams (at least a week), you will meet with the committee for an oral exam based on all of your written exam responsesIf you pass the entire exam, the Graduate School will be notified of the students formal PhD candidacy via the Report of Preliminary Examination form, indicating approval of all supervisory committee members. If the supervisory committee is not in agreement on passing part or all of the exam, Graduate School policy on retakes will apply.

From the Graduate Bulletin:


The supervisory committee shall serve as the examining committee of which the major adviser shall serve as chair.

A comprehensive/preliminary examination will be required of each student after the greater portion of courses has been completed. This examination consists of a written part and an oral part. After passing the comprehensive/preliminary examination, the student will be formally admitted to candidacy for the Doctor of Philosophy degree. At least one academic semester must elapse between the comprehensive/preliminary examination and the final examination.

Thefinal examination will be taken after the candidate has completed the course work and dissertation. This oral examination will be concerned primarily with the dissertation, but it may also cover material from course work, especially those courses fundamental to the dissertation. The dissertation in a near final form must be given to the committee members at least seven (7) days prior to the final examination.

Once a date is finalized with the student's supervisory committee, the Notification of Scheduled Examination form must be filed with the Graduate College at least two (2) weeks prior to the examination.

At the conclusion of each oral examination, the examining committee shall record, in writing, its approval or disapproval of the candidate and file the appropriate report of examination form to the Graduate College within 14 days of the exam.

A negative vote by more than one member of the student's committee will signify failure of either the comprehensive/preliminary examination or the final examination. Upon permission of a majority of the supervisory committee members, a candidate is allowed to take each examination twice. The supervisory committee will set a date at least one month after the failed examination. Exception to this time limit will be considered by the Dean of the Graduate College upon presentation of written justification from the chair of the supervisory committee in consultation with the committee members. Should both attempts to pass an examination result in failure, the candidate may request to take the examination a third time. A request for a third examination requires the support of the supervisory committee and program administrator, and the approval of the Dean of the Graduate College after consultation with the Graduate Council.

Continuous enrollment is required (fall and spring semester) until all degree requirements are completed, including Graduate School approval of the dissertation. Students defending in the summer semester must register for summer semester.To participate in commencement, the student must have passed the final examination seven days prior to the commencement ceremony

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