PhD – Comprehensive Exams

Students must complete two comprehensive exams (or “comps” for short), which are described below.

Comp I

Upon completion of all five core courses (without any outstanding incompletes), the student must complete their first comprehensive exam (Comp I) that covers the content learned in the core. This a closed-book exam administered by the PhD director and assistant dean for graduate programs on campus and consisting of two essays, one completed in the morning (10:00 to 1:00) and one completed in the afternoon (2:00 to 5:00). The essay questions are not provided in advance and will change from semester to semester, but students will have some choice in the questions they answer. Comp I will be given only in January and June (the dates will be announced in advance) and should be taken as soon as possible after the student completes the core courses. The essays are generally graded by faculty members who teach in the core.

If the student receives a failing grade on one or both of the essays, an additional faculty member selected by the PhD director will be asked to read the essay(s). The student may then be asked to re-take the exam, following the same format but with a new question. If the student fails a second time, they cannot retake the exam again.

Comp II

Upon completion of all of the relevant elective courses in their specializations (without any outstanding incompletes), the student should complete their second comprehensive exam (Comp II), which reflects knowledge the student has learned through his or her elective coursework. The exam consists of two essays, one representing each of the student’s areas of specialization. The exam is administered by the student’s main adviser, a core member of the SPAA faculty (or if the student does not yet have an adviser, by a core SPAA faculty member with expertise in the specialization) as follows:

  1. The adviser, in consultation with the student, schedules the exam and notifies the PhD director. The two essays comprising the exam may be submitted at different times, although the second essay should be submitted within the same or subsequent semester.
  2. The student submits the essays, one for each area of specialization, in final form to the adviser. The essays can be any combination of a quantitative empirical study, a qualitative empirical study, or a literature review essay and should be comparable in length, style and quality to a journal manuscript. The essays may be extensions of work the student has done as part of an independent study or other elective coursework. Important: The essays must be sole-authored original work by the student – essays that have been written in part by a faculty mentor, another student, or any other co-author cannot be submitted for Comp II.
  3. The adviser identifies an appropriate second reader for each of the essays; the second reader should be a faculty member with expertise in the relevant area of specialization.
  4. The adviser and the second reader review the essay and prepare written feedback and criticism (similar in style to a journal’s peer-review process); as a result, the student will receive two reviews of each essay (one from the adviser, one from the second reader).
  5. The adviser, in consultation with the second reader, may decide to require revisions to the essay. The student will then revise the essay, generally within a one-month period. The student will have only one opportunity to revise and resubmit the essay(s) before receiving a final grade.
  6. The adviser, in consultation with the second reader, will notify the student of the final grade for each essay, copying the PhD director.

If the student receives a failing grade on one or both of the essays, an additional faculty member selected by the PhD director will be asked to read the essay(s) and the student may be given one last opportunity to revise the essay(s). If the student still receives a failing grade on either essay, he or she will not be allowed to continue in the program.

Academic integrity is essential in all aspects of the PhD program, including Comp II. Any indication that any part of a student’s Comp II essay is not the original work of the student will be grounds for a failing grade (with no chance to revise and resubmit the essay).

Grades

For both comprehensive exams, the possible grades are as follows:

  • High pass (pass with distinction)
  • Pass
  • Fail
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