The comprehensives consist of three examinations: normally, one each in theory, methodology, and a substantive area.
A comprehensive is not a narrative or a literature review, it is a discussion of key issues and controversies and is expected to be synthetic, analytical, and critical.
For each comprehensive examination, the Program Committee chooses two or three faculty members (some of whom may be Program Committee members) and seeks assurance that the faculty members involved shall be available during the requisite time period. Composition of the Comprehensive Examination Committees must be approved by the GEC.
Before each comprehensive examination, the student in collaboration with the Comprehensive Examination Committee develops a one-page statement describing the area of the examination and a reading list of approximately 30 books, monographs and journal articles considered to be key works in the field. The Committee develops 2-3 examination questions in consultation with the student as part of the process of developing the reading list. The Comprehensive Examination Committee Chair submits to the GEC for approval the student’s Committee-approved statement and reading list, and the Committee’s examination questions, with a copy to the student’s Program Committee Chair. Following GEC approval, the student commences the reading and writes essay responses to the questions. Each answer is expected to be from 15 to 20 double-spaced pages in length.
The Comprehensive Examination is normally a take-home exam.
Under special circumstances, the Comprehensive Examination Committee, after consulting with the student, may utilize a “sit-down exam” format. After the student has finished reading the sources on the reading list, the Committee provides its questions and one week later, the examination is held. The actual examination period is six hours and no notes or references are permitted. Standards of grading are somewhat less stringent than those used in the “take-home” format.
Ordinarily, the first comprehensive shall have been completed by the end of August of the student’s first summer in the program. The student must pass that first comprehensive before going on to the second, which should in turn be completed by the end of December of that year. Similarly, the student must pass the second comprehensive examination before taking the third, which shall have been completed by the end of April of the next calendar year.
All questions are to be graded by all Comprehensive Examination Committee members, and an overall consensus grade must be reached by the Committee. The available grades are “pass” and “fail.” Comprehensive Examination Committee Chairs are responsible for submitting the Committee’s grade to the GEC for review, normally three weeks after receipt of the completed exam. The GEC monitors the examination process in order to ensure that students’ examinations are equivalent. They are responsible for overseeing the examination and for ensuring that students are treated equitably. It is the responsibility of the GEC to receive the Comprehensive Examination Committee’s evaluation of the student’s comprehensive examination.
The student must pass all three comprehensive examinations in order to continue in the PhD program.