Comprehensive Examinations

Students must complete written and oral comprehensive exams in two fields. (See Explanation of Field Areas below) The PhD Field Examination Committee is comprised of four field examiners. One of the four examiners will be the research supervisor.  Students must complete all of their coursework requirements before writing their comprehensive examinations.

Comprehensive fields

PhD candidates must complete two written field examinations, one based on an area and period and the other thematic.  In exceptional cases in which one major field and two minor fields seem more appropriate, students must provide a clear justification and may develop these in consultation with their supervisor and the graduate advisor. The thematic field should be one of the departmental thematic clusters, as described on the website. Exceptions require approval from both the supervisor and the graduate advisor. The examinations test the candidate's mastery of the factual knowledge, central historiographical issues and theoretical concepts of the field.  The examiners agree with the candidate in advance on a bibliography from which examination questions will be derived. Students should consult with their committee to come up with a final list. As an approximate guide to the preparation expected, candidates generally read the equivalent of 80-100 books and articles for a major field.  Doctoral students are required to complete two written take-home examinations, one in each field, over a two-week period.  If there are three fields, students will write on their major field in one week, and on two minor fields in the other week. The comprehensive exams should total no more than 10,000 words.

  • In the week following the written examinations, candidates will take an oral examination, to be based mainly on the candidate's written field examinations.  All of the questions posed on the written exams are open to oral questioning.  Other questions relevant to the field reading lists also may be expected.  The oral examination is normally three hours in duration.  The written and oral examinations in each field will receive one grade (pass/fail). 
  • Every member of the examination committee and the chair will receive copies of and read all written answers.
  • A student who fails any field must repeat the written and oral examinations in all fields.  No substitution of fields or committee members at re-examination will be permitted, but the student will receive an entirely new exam. Students may meet with their supervisor and or committee members once to review the exam. A student may repeat the exam within two months of the first, but must complete it by the next general examination period. A student will be allowed to re-sit comprehensives only once, and will be required to withdraw from the PhD program upon a second failure in one or more fields.
  • Comprehensive doctoral examinations will be held twice a year, in September and March.  Exceptions to this schedule require approval from the supervisor and graduate advisor. Students are expected to complete their comprehensive examinations within 24 months from the date of initial registration.  A student who has not advanced to candidacy (including the prospectus defense) within 36 months from date of initial registration must withdraw from the program.  Extension of this period may be permitted by the Dean of Graduate Studies in exceptional circumstances.