Ph.D. Comprehensive Exam


For the Human Development, Learning and Culture (HDLC) area, the comprehensive examination is designed to meet two basic objectives:

      1. Demonstration of depth and breadth of knowledge in HDLC.
        Students demonstrate their depth and breadth of knowledge through the analysis, synthesis, critical evaluation, and integration of two distinct domains within the field. Students are expected to consider information derived from coursework, research and practical experiences, directed studies, and their own independent readings to address a significant question or issue within the field in a scholarly, integrative review paper. To facilitate breadth of knowledge, the comprehensive examination must be distinct from the student’s M.A. thesis research and doctoral dissertation research, though there may be some overlap.
      2. Evaluation of theoretical and applied competencies.
        The comprehensive examination provides area faculty with a cumulative evaluation of each doctoral student in terms of their understanding of both theory and application within their chosen field of study. Successful completion of the comprehensive examination indicates that competencies in the student’s primary area of study are consistent with study and learning at the doctoral level and that the student an communicate his or her knowledge in a scholarly manner.

Comprehensive Exam Proposal and Approval Form

Comprehensive Examination Papers

For the comprehensive examination in the Human Development, Learning, and Culture area, doctoral students are required to write an integrative review paper addressing a significant issue or question relevant to HDLC that integrates two distinct areas or domains within the field. The student must demonstrate a good understanding of the chosen areas of focus as reflected in an in-depth review and critical analysis of the areas and must demonstrate the capacity to consider theory and research as well as application to issues of development, learning and culture.

The paper should reflect well-developed written communication skills, strong intellectual scholarship, and should be of publishable quality.  It must be of standard manuscript length (e.g., 20 to 25 pages, excluding references and tables) and must conform to the style and requirements of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.).

Procedures and Evaluations

The comprehensive examination is normally undertaken following completion of coursework and prior to embarking on the doctoral thesis, usually near the end of the second year of the doctoral program. Normally, the comprehensive paper is completed over a period of six weeks.

The comprehensive examination is overseen and evaluated by a comprehensive examination committee. This committee typically consists of the student’s HDLC advisor and/or research supervisor and two other faculty members with expertise relevant to the chosen areas of focus.  With the exception of the student’s HDLC advisor and/or research supervisor, the membership of the comprehensive examination committee may or may not include members of the student’s dissertation committee.

Students are not permitted to seek advice regarding the comprehensive examination paper during the six week writing period and are expected to complete the examination paper on their own merit.

Students select a topic for their comprehensive examination paper in consultation their advisor and comprehensive examination committee. Prior to writing his/her comprehensive examination, the student must obtain formal approval from his/her comprehensive exam committee. To obtain this approval, the student needs to complete Part 1 of the Comprehensive Exam Proposal and Approval Form. All three committee members must sign it, indicating that they approve of the proposal, as well as the timeline for completion. The one page proposal needs to be submitted with the form upon completion of the comprehensive exam.

Students are expected to complete the paper within 6 weeks following receipt of approval from all members of the committee. Students should notify the comprehensive committee at least 2 weeks in advance of submission of a paper.  Committee members will provide the student with an evaluation of their comprehensive examination within one month of submission of the paper to committee members.

Evaluation of the comprehensive examination will be coordinated by the student’s research supervisor.  Each reader will evaluate the paper as either pass or fail, on the basis of the following criteria:

      • Demonstration of the ability to integrate literatures to address a significant question or issue within Human Development Learning and Culture
      • Demonstration of in-depth understanding of the chosen areas of focus
      • Good use of the literature to derive support for scholarly arguments
      • Evidence of critical thinking and critical evaluation of each domain considered
      • Ability to consider both theory/research and application
      • Ability to consider multiple points of view
      • Demonstration of high standards of written communication, with clear and concise presentation of arguments in APA style

Successful completion of the comprehensive examination will require a mark of “pass” from all three committee members. The committee members must sign part 2 of the Comprehensive Exam Proposal and Approval Form. An email will suffice for this part, although it must be submitted along with the form.

For each paper that is assigned a failing mark by the committee members, students will be provided with specific feedback outlining problems and will be allowed to revise and resubmit their comprehensive paper within six weeks.  On the Proposal and Approval form, a space is available to indicate the date of re-submission, should this be necessary. Only one re-write is allowed; students who have not passed after one revision will be asked to withdraw from the program.