Comprehensive Exam

The comprehensive examination process is overseen and evaluated by the program committee. With the exception of the student’s program advisor and/or research supervisor, the membership of the program committee may or may not include members of the student’s dissertation committee.

The purpose of the comprehensive exams in Special Education is to help the student develop and display those competencies expected of a recent PhD graduate and required of a beginning academic. These competencies cover a broad range of areas within Special Education, including teaching, research, and service. Students will present evidence of their learning through their comprehensive experiences in an oral defense (see below). Students will be expected to demonstrate clear evidence of the competencies developed within two years of entering the program.

Each student will be expected to complete three activities and a research proposal for the comprehensive exam. Student must fulfil at least one activity from each section. Each activity must have prior approval by the student’s program committee. A Comprehensive Exam Proposal meeting must be scheduled by the end of Year 1. The student should present a proposal of the activities they will complete for each area of the competencies to the committee, along with a reflection about their goals for the program. After selecting the three activities for the comprehensive exam, students will prepare an initial reflection on the competencies they selected, and what these competencies mean to them in regard to their professional development and future as a doctoral level professional. Progress in completion of these requirements will be reviewed annually, and then evaluated in a final defense.


  1. The generation of publishable research that makes a contribution to the field. Examples of products include an article in a peer-review journal or a chapter in an edited book. In the case of collaborative products, the student must make a substantive contribution and demonstrate leadership in a part of the collaboration.
  2. A aper presentation of the quality expected at a peer-reviewed conference. In the case of collaborative presentations, the student must make a substantive contribution and demonstrate leadership in a part of the collaboration.
  3. The preparation of an application package for research and/or fellowship support. The student must declare that he or she intends to use this application as a comprehensive requirement well in advance of submission.
  4. Other research-related activities approved by your committee (e.g., design of a program evaluation project, peer review of a journal article, involvement in lab mentorship of master’s students).


  1. Involvement in teaching a course at UBC.
  2. Involvement in curriculum revision of a UBC course.
  3. Involvement in other teaching-related activities at a professional level approved by your committee (e.g., Summer Institute, designing and presenting a professional development workshop).


  1. Involvement in a leadership role in a professional organization.
  2. Involvement in consultation work in schools or with families and individuals with special learning needs.
  3. Involvement in other service-related activities to the community at a professional level approved by your committee (e.g., engagement with community organizations, initiation of a project that benefits the community).

Research proposal

The intent of the research proposal is to give the student a start towards their dissertation proposal, an opportunity for discussion about research ideas, and an opportunity to demonstrate the capability of translating the research ideas into feasible research studies.

  1. Provide a brief literature review on the research topic of interest.
  2. Introduce a research question or questions that will fill a gap and add to the extant knowledge of the research area.
  3. Propose the design and methods for three research studies to investigate research question(s) of interest to the student. A least one proposed study should use a different research methodology than the other two proposed studies. One of the proposed studies is typically selected as a draft of the dissertation proposal. In the case where the student chooses to complete a multi-study dissertation, all proposed studies may be considered and carried out as integral part of the dissertation.

Evaluation Process

When students have completed all of the required comprehensive activities and prepared their professional portfolio, they should work with their program advisor and/or research supervisor to schedule a meeting with their comprehensive examination committee. The portfolio should be made available to committee members at least 3 weeks prior to the meeting. The portfolio should include the research proposal and artifacts demonstrating completion of the three selected activities in research, teaching and service. At the meeting, students are expected to engage in an oral defense and present (1) a brief overview of their learning from each activity vis-a-vis their initial professional and competency development goals, (2) a deeper reflection on the experience of completing their competency activities, (3) some possible “next steps” in the evolvement of their academic and professional trajectories, and (4) and overview of their three research study proposals and rationale for the choices. The presentation/discussion can be organized activity by activity and/or with an overall presentation followed by discussion (at the discretion of the student and the program committee).

The comprehensive exam will be judged as successfully passed if the student has: (a) completed each of the chosen activities to a high standard as expected of a doctoral candidate in the Faculty of Education at UBC, (b) provided evidence of the development of competencies as appropriate to each of the chosen scholarly activities that include reflection upon their goals, (c) demonstrated learning through the activities that will inform their further scholarly development, and (d) developed a satisfying research proposal that demonstrates the student’s ability to effectively use at least two research methodologies to answer research questions contributing to the research topic of choice.

Students will be provided with an evaluation of their comprehensive exam after a short in-camera meeting after the oral defense. Successful completion of the comprehensive examination will require a mark of “pass” from all three committee members.

Should the research proposal, competencies, or oral defense be assigned a failing mark/not be completed as approved by the committee, students will be provided with specific feedback outlining problems and will be allowed to revise and resubmit their research proposal, competencies, or oral defense within an agreed amount of time. Students who have not passed after one revision may be asked to withdraw from the program.

SPED Comprehensive Examination Approval Form