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Comprehensive examinations

Before admission to candidacy for the degree, students must pass three comprehensive field examinations – one in each of the three fields that constitute a student’s program of study – and an oral examination of the student's written thesis proposal.

Each member of a student’s advisory committee is responsible for setting and grading the exam in their field (see ‘Setting up a comprehensive exam’ below). All of the student's advisors will receive copies of the other exams that the student has written. Preparation for the written examinations could constitute a part of directed study tutorial a student takes in the three fields of study.

Each supervisor will be responsible for one comprehensive exam. All students must complete two research-based comprehensive exams. These 72 hour take-home exams are based on a bibliography agreed upon with the supervisor. The bibliography can include both monographs and articles and is on average comprised of 25 to 30 items, but in each case is also determined by standards and current practices in the given field. The typical preparation time for a comprehensive examination is three months. One week before the exam, the director of the program ( as well as the administrator,, must receive the bibliography as well as 1-3 questions. These questions will then be sent by the supervisor to the student at the appointed day and time of the exam. Once completed (72 hours after receiving the question(s)), the student will send the answer(s) to the supervisor of the comprehensive exam and to both the director and the administrator of the Humanities PhD program. Expected page lengths for exams are 20 to 30 pages (5000 to 7500 words). 

The third exam can diverge from the research-based 72-hour comprehensive exam. In the cases where the student is in the research-creation stream, the third exam is studio-based (see guidelines for a studio comprehensive exam below). For the remaining students, the third comprehensive exam can take the form of

1- a third research-based comprehensive exam (see above)

2- 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 supervisor's role functions as an initial round of peer-review. 

The Director of the Humanities program monitors the setting of the comprehensive examinations to ensure that appropriate and equitable standards are followed in all the fields.

Pre-comps meeting: It is highly recommended that a pre-comprehensive exams meeting of the student with all members of their advisory committee be held in which the areas to be covered in the three exams could be discussed in the broader context of the student’s overall program of study and dissertation project. The student will prepare a document to be circulated to the advisors at least a week prior to the meeting, briefly outlining the dissertation project (as the student sees it as this point in their studies) and suggesting possible areas, with selected key readings, to be covered in each field exam. At the meeting, this document will serve as a point of departure for feedback and initial discussion of the scope and focus of the material to be covered in each of the three exams. It is the responsibility of the student to set up such a meeting, coordinating with their advisors. Following the pre-comps meeting, the student will arrange to meet individually with each advisor in order to finalize a bibliography for each of the three comprehensive exams. 

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