Comprehensive examinations

Before working on their thesis proposal, students must pass three comprehensive field examinations – one in each of the three fields that constitute a student’s program of study.

Each member of a student’s advisory committee ("advisor") is responsible for setting and grading one comprehensive exam ("comp"). However, results of written comps are sent to all of the student's advisors and all advisors attend studio comps. Together with the pre-comps meeting, this process helps the student and committee build toward the thesis proposal.  Preparation for comps could constitute a part of directed study courses a student takes in their three fields of study.

The Director of the Humanities program monitors the setting of the comps to ensure that appropriate and equitable standards are followed.

Types of comprehensive exams:  

Research-based comprehensive exams: All students must complete two research-based comprehensive exams. These 72-hour take-home exams are based on a bibliography developed by the student in consultation with the adviser. The bibliography can include both monographs and articles and is on average comprised of 25 to 30 items, but the number of texts may vary depending on standards and current practices of the field; the adviser has an important role in ensuring that the biibliography is sufficiently comprehensive for the field. The typical preparation time for a comprehensive examination is three months. Expected page lengths for exams are 20 to 30 pages (5000 to 7500 words). See guidelines below for further details on take-home comps.

Studio comprehensive exam: For students in the research-creation stream, the third exam is a studio-based. See guidelines below for further details.

Publishable research essay: For students who are not in the research-creation stream, the third comp can be another research-based exam, or it can take take the form of a publishable research essay. We consider a publishable essay one that displays a true engagement with key literature(s) and advances an argument that could make a scholarly contribution if revised appropriately. In this case, the assessment of the adviser overseeing the comp functions as an initial round of peer-review. For this type of comp, the supevisor notifies us of the comp using our online form and then sends in the essay and pass/fail result

Pre-comps meeting:

It is highly recommended that the student schedule and convene a meeting with all members of their advisory committee prior to their comps, to discuss the areas to be covered in the three comps in the broader context of the student’s overall program of study and dissertation project. The best practice is for the student to prepare a document to be circulated to the advisors at least a week prior to the meeting that briefly outlines the dissertation project and that suggests possible areas and key readings to be covered in each comp. This document serves as a point of departure for feedback and initial discussion of the scope and focus of the material to be covered in each comp. Following the pre-comps meeting, the student should arrange individual meetings with each advisor to finalize a bibliography for each of the three comps. 

Note: If a student fails any of their comprehensive field examinations, they may take the failed examination again only once. The student can retake the exam after a period of at least three months from the date of the original examination but no later than one year after the date of the original examination.

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