Comprehensive Exam Procedure
PhD Comprehensive Examination: Key Elements and Suggested Calendar
All applicants for advancement to candidacy for the doctoral degree must pass a comprehensive examination. Both prevailing expectations in the field and the actual courses taken by the candidate will determine the subject matter of the examinations. This exam may not be taken until all required course work has been completed.
1: The primary objective of the comprehensive examination is to assess the student’s knowledge of the
major field of study (geography, geographic education, or GIScience) and to determine the student’s
ability to undertake and complete original research.
- Students who pass the comprehensive examination have not achieved candidacy until they have defended their proposal.
2: The student’s comprehensive examination committee consists of at least four members.
- At least three must be members of the Department of Geography.
- All members of the Department of Geography serving on the committee must be members of the PhD core or Associate Doctoral Faculty.
- The committee is chaired by the student’s research advisor, who must be a member of the PhD Core Faculty in the Department of Geography.
3: The examination consists of a written component and an oral component.
- The student must pass the written component before proceeding to the oral component.
4: Before formal arrangements for the written examination are made, the student meets with the research
advisor and the committee to agree upon examination dates and format.
- The examinations should be administered during the fall and spring semesters – ONLY
5: In consultation with each committee member, the student prepares a reading list comprised of
publications relevant to their research and specialization. The reading list must be approved by
the advisor and the committee. Once the reading list is approved, the advisor circulates the
reading list to all committee members at least six weeks prior to the written exam.
The student prepares for the written comprehensive examination based on the reading list.
At least two weeks prior to the beginning of the written component, the research advisor invites each
member of the committee to submit a written question or questions for inclusion on the examination
based upon the reading list.
6: Questions are to be received by the advisor at least one week before the scheduled beginning of
- The research advisor may edit the questions for clarity are/or duplication.
- The research advisor provides all committee members with the complete list of questions for the committee’s comment and approval before administering the examination to the students.
7: The entire written examination lasts four consecutive days and is to be completed within one week.
Only one examination period can be scheduled on each examination day. Each examination period
shall be either closed book or open book. At the end of any examination, the student shall submit
the answers to the research advisor or a committee member.
- A closed book examination period should last no more than four hours. For closed book examinations, the student saves the answer to a USB drive and submits the USB drive as well as a hardcopy of the answers to their advisor or a committee member.
- An open book examination shall be no more than eight hours in length. For open book examinations, the research advisor shall clearly state the number of hours allocated to each examination period and mark those hours on the question sheet given to the student at the beginning of each examination period. Students may submit their answers electronically.
- The Department will provide a computer connected to a printer, word-processing software, a USB drive, and a quiet and comfortable place free of distractions to the student.
8: After the student has completed the written examination, the research advisor emails the committee
a complete set of the student’s responses to their questions.
9: Committee members including the research advisor are expected to read and evaluate the answers
as soon as possible after the student completes the examination.
- After reading the answers, each committee member offers judgment about whether the student passes the written examination.
- Each committee member then communicates his or her judgment of the written examination via email to the research advisor.
10: If a majority of the committee judges the written examination to be passing, the student passes the
written examination. Otherwise, the student fails the examination.
- The committee’s judgment concerning the outcome of the written examination must be communicated to the student orally and in writing within one week after the student completes the written examination.
11: A student who fails the written examination is eligible to retake the written examination once.
- The second examination must take place no less than three months and no more than one year after the end of the first written examination.
- A student who fails the written examination twice is denied admission to Ph.D. candidacy.
12: At the committee’s discretion, the candidate can be required to complete up to six hours of
additional course work before retaking the examination.
13: Once the student has passed the written component, the oral component of the examination is
scheduled by the research advisor in consultation with the committee and the student.
- The oral examination takes place within three weeks after the end of the written examination.
14: The oral examination is to last no more than two hours.
15: After the oral examination is finished, the student is excused while the committee deliberates
the result of the examination.
- If a majority of the committee judges the examination as passing, the student passes the examination.
- The committee then notifies the student no more than thirty minutes after the end of the oral examination.
16: A student who fails the oral examination is eligible to retake the oral examination once.
- The second examination must take place no less than three months and no more than one year
after the end of the first written examination.
- A student who fails the oral examination twice is denied admission to Ph.D. candidacy.
17: Students should not be made aware of any examination questions before an examination begins.
18: This is an examination. Therefore, students shall answer the questions independently without help
from others for both closed book and open book examinations. Students shall not access the
internet using any device during a closed book examination.
Week 1 Student’s reading list is approved by the research advisor & advisor requests
questions from the rest of the committee
Week 2 All committee members send written questions to the major advisor; Before
the end of week 2, the advisor distributes the approved questions to the committee
Week 3 Student takes the written examination
Week 4 Committee reviews answers; advisor informs student the outcome of the written
examination (pass or fail)
Week 6 Before the end of week 6, the oral exam must occur
All of this must occur during one of the regular long semesters and cannot extend over a semester break.