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Comprehensive Examination - Research Doctorate

This policy was recently revised. The version below is effective until Summer 2023 (5/8/2023).

View the revised version.



To establish the content, form, scheduling, and reporting requirements for the Comprehensive Examination.


Academic Goal

To evaluate the student’s mastery of the major field and, if appropriate, dual-title and minor fields, and to determine whether the student is prepared to succeed in their dissertation research.



All students enrolled in programs of study leading to the Ph.D.

The research doctorate requires preparation of a dissertation that represents a significant contribution to knowledge in the major field of study and demonstrates the student’s ability to do independent research of high quality as well as competence in scholarly exposition. The Comprehensive Examination is a critical step to ensure the student has the foundation to succeed in their dissertation research. It is the second major summative assessment (see GCAC-604 Qualifying Examination - Research Doctorate) of a doctoral student’s progress toward the degree.

Ph.D. Candidate
A Ph.D. student who has completed all requirements except the dissertation and final oral examination.

Policy Statement

  1. Each Ph.D. student is required to pass a Comprehensive Examination to become a Ph.D. candidate.
  2. The Comprehensive Examination is administered, overseen, and evaluated by the entire Ph.D. Committee (see GCAC-602 and GCAC-603).
  3. In administering the Comprehensive Examination, the Ph.D. Committee must evaluate the competency of the student to conduct their research in light of the program’s defined Learning Objectives, particularly with respect to:
    1. the student’s mastery of the major, and if appropriate, dual-title and minor fields of study; and
    2. whether the student is prepared to succeed in their dissertation research.
  4. The format of the Comprehensive Examination may be entirely oral, or it may have both a written and an oral component.
  5. Content
    1. The student’s major program, or program area in programs with distinct subdisciplines, must establish guidelines for the Comprehensive Examination that are uniformly applied to all students in that program or within each subdiscipline. These guidelines and evaluation criteria must be presented in the graduate program’s handbook, which must be provided to the student upon matriculation. These guidelines must include:
      1. The timing and the format of the examination
      2. Clear criteria for evaluation.
      3. The program’s policy describing the student’s options in case of failure. The policy must include:
        1. If retaking the examination after failure is allowed, and if so under what conditions.
        2. If retaking the examination after failure is permitted whether there is a limit to the number of attempts and a timeline under which the retakes must be completed.
        3. If students who have failed the final attempt will be dismissed from the program or may be allowed to change to the master’s degree.
    2. If the student is also enrolled in a dual-title graduate degree program, the Comprehensive Examination requirements of the dual-title program must be integrated into the Comprehensive Examination of the student’s major program.
      1. The dual-title faculty representative on the Ph.D. committee will participate in constructing comprehensive examination questions and assessing student performance related to the dual-title area of study as part of a unified comprehensive examination with the major program administered to the student.
  6. A favorable vote of at least two-thirds of the members of the Ph.D. committee is required for passing the Comprehensive Examination.
  7. When a period of more than six years has elapsed between the passing of the Comprehensive Examination and the completion of the program, the student is required to pass a second Comprehensive Examination before the final oral examination or final performance will be scheduled.


  1. The responsibility for scheduling the Comprehensive Exam rests with the student and their Ph.D. committee chair.
  2. The graduate student must be in good academic standing and must be registered as a full-time or part-time graduate degree student for the semester in which the Comprehensive Examination is taken.
    1. All students are required to have a minimum grade-point average of 3.00 for work completed at the University as a graduate student at the time the Comprehensive Examination is administered.
    2. Students may not have deferred or missing grades.
  3. The Comprehensive Examination may not occur before:
    1. the completion of all course work required by the program and the Ph.D. Committee (this does not preclude the Ph.D. Committee from requiring additional education, including course work, as defined in GCAC-603);
    2. the student has satisfied the English competency requirement (GCAC-605);
    3. the student has satisfied any program-specific communication and foreign language competency requirement.
  4. The Comprehensive Examination should be scheduled within a year of completion of all required course work to provide students with timely assessment of their ability to complete their dissertation, but it must be scheduled no later than five years following the passing of the Qualifying Examination.
  5. Comprehensive Examinations must take place at the campus location of the graduate center offering the program to ensure the technological reliability, confidentiality, and safety of all participants.
  6. Comprehensive Examination Attendance
    1. The Ph.D. student must be physically present at the examination.
    2. In addition to the student, at least three members of the Ph.D. Committee, must be physically present at the examination. This must include the chair, the dissertation adviser(s), and (for students enrolled in a dual-title with a co-chair representing the dual-title) the dual-title co-chair.
    3. Additional Ph.D. Committee members beyond the required minimum of three may participate remotely, but in-person participation is strongly encouraged.
    4. Notification of participation of any Ph.D. committee member via distance must accompany the Examination Request Form at least two weeks prior to the date of the examination. (In the case of emergencies, programs should contact Graduate Enrollment Services.)
      1. Those participating via distance should use interactive audio-visual technology. If unable to connect with video, audio-only participation may be allowed.
      2. Participation via distance must be communicated to the student and all Ph.D. Committee members at the time of the notification to Graduate Enrollment Services.
  7. The results of all Comprehensive Examinations, regardless of the outcome, must be reported to the Graduate Enrollment Services within five business days following the examination.

Responsibilities/Guidelines/Best Practices

  1. The student may discuss with the Ph.D. committee members the types of questions that might be asked on this exam.

Further Information

Exceptions to Comprehensive Examination Time Limits due to COVID-19

Revision History

  • Approved by Graduate Council, May 4, 2022. Effective date: Fall 2022 (8/15/2022).
    • Policy Statement 6: Revised requirements for in-person and remote participation.
  • Approved by Graduate Council, December 16, 2020. Effective immediately.
    • Added a requirement for a timeline under which retakes must be completed to Policy Statement 5.a.iii.2.
  • Approved by Graduate Council, May 6, 2020. Effective date: Fall 2020 (08/17/2020).
    • Policy revised extensively.
  • Adapted from Graduate Bulletin: June 2018.
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