A Comprehensive Exam consists of a Written Exam in three different areas followed by an Oral Exam. These examinations are conducted by a PhD Comprehensive Advisory Committee. This committee must be established by the Thesis Supervisor and approved by the Graduate Director before the student is permitted to register for COMP 6907. This committee is typically comprised of three faculty members and must include at a minimum:

  • Thesis Supervisor(s)
  • An OCICS member from EECS
  • An additional OCICS member from SCS.

The committee must be established before the end of the third term of the initial registration. Both Written and Oral Exams must take place within the first 4 terms from the initial registration.

Guidelines for the Student, Thesis Supervisor(s) and the Comprehensive Advisory Committee

  • Role of PhD Comprehensive Advisory Committee includes filling out the Comprehensive Advisory Committee & Reading List form. In particular, the committee must establish the topics and readings assigned to the candidate for the Comprehensive Exam. Typically, the Exam will address a major and two minor areas. The form must be submitted for approval at least three months prior to the Comprehensive Exam and well before the last date for registration for that term. Breadth and depth MUST be addressed by this Exam. More precisely:
    • The major must address breadth and depth in some sufficiently ‘wide’ field.
    • No significant overlap must exist between the major and the two minors (e.g., in the reading lists).
    • It is the role of the Doctoral Thesis Proposal, not the Comprehensive Exam, to have the student demonstrate in-depth knowledge of their specific area of research. It is suggested that the major of the Comprehensive Exam be used to verify basic comprehension in the proposed field of research.
    • For the major and minors, reading lists and exams are to test senior undergraduate level or junior graduate level knowledge.
  • Registration: Upon approval of the Comprehensive Advisory Committee & Reading List form, the Graduate Administrator will allow the student to register in COMP 6907. The student must maintain a continuous registration in COMP 6907 until it is completed. Failure to do so may result in a loss of status as a graduate student.
  • Scheduling: It is the responsibility of the Thesis Supervisor to submit the PhD Comprehensive Exam Specification form to the Graduate Administrator. The Oral Exam is typically held one week after the Written Examinations.
    • The PhD Comprehensive Exam Specification form should be submitted by the Thesis Supervisor(s) at least 3 weeks prior to the planned dates for the Oral Examination. Once this form is submitted, the Graduate Administrator will prepare a formal notice for the Oral Exam. The committee for the Oral Exam consists of all the members of the Comprehensive Advisory Committee and a Chair. The Chair is an SCS-OCICS member who is familiar with the rules and regulations of FGPA and SCS. The Thesis Supervisor must find an appropriate Chair for the Oral Exam before a formal notice for the Comprehensive Exam can be released.
    • The Grad Administrator will request the concerned faculty members of the Comprehensive Advisory Committee to submit their questions/exam papers for the Written Exam. The questions are due at least one week before the Written Exam to the Graduate Administrator.
    • The Written Exam will be between five and nine hours in length, typically three hours for the major and two hours for each minor.
    • The three written exams typically take place on three consecutive working days. They are planned in such a way that each exam takes place during the SCS office hours so that the office staff can manage all the logistics for that exam.
  • Marking of the Written Exam: Members of the Advisory Committee review the candidate’s answers for the portion of their exam before the Oral Exam and report a grade by email to the Graduate Director alone. Once the Graduate Director has received the 3 grades, the Graduate Director decides on whether the oral proceeds or not and informs all relevant parties.
  • Oral Exam: In the Oral Exam, a thorough investigation of the knowledge and understanding of the candidate, both in terms of breadth and depth, concerning the major and minor topics of the examination, is undertaken. At a minimum, familiarity with the designated material at the senior undergraduate level or junior graduate level will be expected. The ability of the candidate to articulate clear answers in English is expected.
  • Grading of COMP 6907: The Comprehensive Exam may be failed, passed conditionally (i.e., with extra requirements) or passed unconditionally:
    • A student fails COMP 6907 if a failing grade is received by the Graduate Director for two or more of the written exams. In this case, no oral takes place. A student may also fail COMP 6907 if, after the oral, this course is assigned a FAIL verdict by the Comprehensive Advisory Committee. More specifically, at the end of the oral, a vote is held among the examiners to determine if the comprehensive is passed unconditionally, passed conditionally, or failed. The verdict is recorded by the Chair of the oral on the Comprehensive Grading Sheet (supplied by the Graduate Administrator). When COMP 6907 is failed, this course may be retaken at most one more time. That is, the student will have to redo and pass 3 written exams and an oral in order to pass this course. A new Comprehensive Advisory Committee & Reading List form and a new PhD Comprehensive Exam Specification form will need to be submitted. Choice of topics, examiners and reading lists may be updated on the first of these forms.
    • When the comprehensive is assigned a passed conditionally verdict, the Chair of the oral will complete the Comprehensive Grading Sheet by supplying a) a list of deficiencies identified by the Comprehensive Advisory Committee, b) extra requirements to rectify these deficiencies, c) the method to be used by the student to demonstrate, to the Comprehensive Advisory Committee, that these extra requirements have been met, d) the deadline by which this demonstration must be completed. Extra requirements may consist in extra courses, special projects, preparation of survey-type papers, extra readings. Extra requirements must be completed within at most one year of the Comprehensive Exam. Once extra requirements have been completed to the satisfaction of the Comprehensive Advisory Committee, the student’s supervisor will inform the Graduate Director and Graduate Administrator that the student has now completed successfully COMP 6907.
    • The Comprehensive Exam questions and the student’s original answer booklet(s) must be filed with the Graduate Administrator.
  • Substitution of committee members or reading lists are allowed only under truly exceptional circumstances, and require sufficient notice from the Thesis Supervisor(s) as well as i) a new set of signed forms and ii) approval by the Graduate Director.