The Comprehensive Exam

The PhD Comprehensive Examination is a written and oral examination conducted after the PhD student has completed most of the coursework and preferably within one year after the first enrolment in the program.  The purpose of this examination is to test the student’s knowledge of his or her designated major and minor areas of study and to evaluate the candidate’s research potential.

The student must complete a PhD Proposed Program of Study, have it approved by the supervisor, and submit it to the Office of Student Services for final departmental approval before starting the comprehensive exam.

Booking a Comprehensive Exam

Once the supervisor, student, and proposed exam committee agree on a time and date to hold the written and oral parts of the exam, the supervisor requests a booking through the Office of Student Services.  Bookings must be made at least four weeks prior to the requested exam date.

Composition of the Comprehensive Examination Committee

The committee consists of a minimum of four graduate faculty members, of which at least two are from the major field of study and at least one is from the first minor field.  These members are to be nominated by the student’s supervisor approximately two months prior to the date of the examination.

The Department will appoint a chair to the committee that is from an area other than the major area of the candidate.  The chair is a voting member of the committee, and is responsible for conducting the examination.

Written Questions and Responses

The first part of the comprehensive examination consists of written questions requiring a written response from the candidate.  Each member of the comprehensive examination committee will contribute at least one question to the examination.  These questions are then given to the student for response within a designated period of time – not normally more than five working days.

The candidate may be permitted to prepare a resonse without direct supervision.  The responses, however, are to be made independently, based on his or her own knowledge and any available references, but with no assistance from others.  Failure to adhere to this condition will constitute a failure of the student.

Oral Exam

At a pre-arranged time shortly after submission of the written responses, the comprehensive exam committee will meet with the student to conduct an oral examination to obtain further assessment of the student’s knowledge and research ability.

Results of the Examination

Following completion of the oral examination, the examination committee will make one of the following recommendations:

  • That the candidate be allowed to proceed with his or her PhD program
  • That the candidate improve his or her knowledge in designated areas
  • That the candidate be asked to withdraw from the program

When improvement in knowledge is required, the department may require the candidate to prepare for another comprehensive examination after the deficiencies in his or her knowledge have been corrected.