Comprehensive Examination

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The comprehensive exam aims to test your understanding and application of core course material, as well as how prepared you are for the area of study you have chosen for your thesis.

When Can I Take The Exam?

The exam is typically held in the first week of June and we recommend that you take the exam before presenting your thesis proposal to the Thesis Screening Panel. Generally, you are expected to sit the exam within 24 months of first registering, and you must successfully complete it before 36 months have passed since you registered. For students who transferred from a Masters degree, initial registration is counted as when you first entered the Masters.

What Can I Expect?

The exam is open book, but with no Internet access allowed. It involves two days of in-class exams, scheduled on a Monday and Tuesday. The exams are designed to be completed in three hours, but you will be given four. The Comprehensive Exam will also involve a short oral exam on the third day, of about 30 minutes’ length, and generally scheduled for the Thursday or Friday of the same week. This will be a question and answer session based on the student’s reading of an assigned academic paper. You will be able to select the paper from at least four emailed to all participants that week.

You will be examined on the core curriculum and the expectation is that you will be able to clearly demonstrate a mastery of the fundamentals at a level appropriate to a PhD recipient, as well as a deeper understanding of materials, applying concepts from multiple course areas. We encourage you to use ideas from your own research to show how you have applied conceptual and methodological knowledge.

To help you prepare, or just get a general idea of the exam material, you can look at the Day 1 Sample Exam QuestionsDay 2 Sample Exam Questions, the Sample Paper for the Oral Exam, and a second Sample Paper for the Oral Exam.

How Is It Marked?

Students receive a percentage grade for each of the three examination days. The final outcome of the exam is based on the percentage grade of all three examination days, and results in a decision of “Pass”, “Conditional Pass”, or “Fail”.

A Pass is awarded for achieving 68% or higher on each of the examination days and an overall average of 76% or higher across the three examination days.

A Conditional Pass is awarded for achieving an overall average of 68% or higher across the three examination days, but not achieving an overall average of 76% or higher across the three examination days, or not achieving the minimum grade of 68% or higher on each of the three examination days. A Fail is the result of achieving an average below 68% across the three examination days.

A Pass results in the student progressing to candidacy.

A Conditional Pass results in additional academic requirements that must be met before the student may progress to candidacy. Requirements for future progress will be developed by the Program Director and Examination Chair in consultation with the student’s supervisor; they may include re-writing the exam, completion of additional course(s), writing a paper/report, or other work to address areas in which the committee finds the student needs additional knowledge. The additional conditions to be met will be reviewed with the student in a meeting between the Faculty members above and the student. While the final decision on the academic requirements will be the decision of the aforementioned Faculty, student input will be solicited and valued in this discussion. The additional academic requirements will also be provided to the student in writing and include expected standards of achievement and times for completion. The student’s supervisor, Program Director, and Examination Chair must sign-off on the satisfactory completion of the conditions before the student may progress to candidacy. Unsatisfactory completion of the conditions may result in a fail for the comprehensive exam.

A Fail is considered unsatisfactory academic progress, and the student will be advised to withdraw from the program.