Comprehensive Exams

What are comprehensive exams??

Comprehensive (comp) exams are taken by each PhD student in their major field, to demonstrate that they have attained sufficient mastery of the basics of that field to both teach courses, and undertake advanced research, in that field. You may also take comprehensive exams in a second field of political science to satisfy the requirements for an optional minor field.

What is the process/time frame for comp exams?

Comp exams are typically taken after the completion of coursework, immediately before either Fall or Spring semester of the third year; in exceptional circumstances, students may take comp exams early (before the Spring of the second year) or later. You should notify the DGS of your intention to take the comp exam the semester before you intend to do so.

The format, material covered, and process for completing the comp exams vary significantly from field to field; please consult the PhD Program Handbook for full details. You will be provided with access to comp exam questions from previous years to assist with preparing to take the exams, and may also seek guidance on how to prepare from the Field Chair in your major (or, where relevant, minor) field. Students in Political Theory should confer with two faculty members about drafting questions for Part II of the Political Theory comp exam in the semester before they take the exam (if not earlier).

Completed comp exams are anonymized and read by a review committee of three faculty members, who confer to determine a grade for the exam (“Distinction” “High Pass” “Pass” or “Fail”). This grade is then communicated to the DGS, who conveys the result to the candidate, and files a report with the Graduate School. You may contact the Field Chair in the field in which you have been examined to request written or oral feedback from the faculty who have reviewed the exam; but there is no requirement or expectation that this will be provided.

What happens if I fail the Comp Exam?

Candidates who receive a failing grade on the comp exam are always allowed to re-take the exam once, typically the next time that it is offered. Students who fail the exam a second time are typically terminated from the program; in special circumstances (such as situations involving mental and/or physical health problems, or if the department has not properly administered and reviewed the exam) students may appeal to the Graduate School to take the exam a third and final time.