Exam Guidelines

Qualifying Exam

If required, a qualifying exam is typically to be taken in the first year and is a useful preliminary and diagnostic tool used to identify areas or subject matter requiring for further study.

Also, a student may be considered for promotion to fully-qualified status in a Ph.D. program if the qualifying examination has been completed successfully. In this situation, the exam is written after one year of study at the master’s level. 

Comprehensive Exam

The successful completion of the comprehensive examination initiates the phase of the program particularly concerned with the research toward the dissertation. A student who has successfully passed a comprehensive exam is considered a doctoral candidate.

How is the comprehensive examination initiated? 
In the second year, the Student Advisory Committee meets with the student to draft the examination and plan how and when it will take place. The meeting agenda will identify the matters to be discussed, including the constituent fields to be tested. The outcome of this meeting is recorded and reported to the CGSR on a GSR210 form.

When is the examination to be taken? 
After the student has completed the course requirements, which is normally at or near the end of their second year. It may not be scheduled later than the end of the third year. The dissertation proposal normally follows after the successful completion of the comprehensive examination.

Who are the examiners? 
A subcommittee of the Student Advisory Committee, selected by the Student Advisory Committee. It has a minimum of five faculty and may include the supervisor(s) and the chair. The Examining Committee is chaired by a representative of the Interdisciplinary Committee of CGSR. This chair may ask questions but votes only in the case of a tie.

How is the examination to be conducted? 
The Student Advisory Committee determines the form of examination: written and/or oral. The normal form is a written examination followed by an oral defense. The oral is closed: only the members of the Examining Committee and the student are present. Typically the oral occurs within two weeks of the written exam.

What is the examination process? The general areas of the Comprehensive Exam are determined by the Student Advisory Committee, in consultation with the student, a minimum of three months before the scheduled exam date. Reading lists are prepared by the committee in collaboration with the student, and approved by the Committee. The exam tests student knowledge in topics and scholarly fields related to the student’s interdisciplinary research. It is designed to cover relevant theory, methodology, and substantive topics/subfields.

Student Advisory Committee can choose the most the most appropriate format for the exam from the following:

  1. A take-home examination consisting of three broad essays in variable lengths of time (but not to exceed three months) followed by an oral exam within two weeks. Example: Write a paper (20-25 pages in length) for each exam question (e.g. critical literature review, essay addressing debates in a reading area, analysis and interpretation of available data).
  2. A take-home examination that consists of one overarching, integrating question along with sub-topics. This exam paper should be of sufficient length to cover the assigned question in considerable detail and the exam can be scheduled for a time period up to two months. It is followed by an oral exam within two weeks of submission.
  3. A multiple-part take-home or an on-site exam with questions submitted by Examining Committee members in areas previously discussed. Each sub-set of questions will be answered in a number of days (e.g. 3-4 days). The exams should be separated in time by three to four days. The oral component will take place within two weeks after the written exam and will cover any of the questions asked in the written, as well as any other material of interest from the readings.

How is the examination evaluated? 
The student is determined to either pass or fail the exam by the Examining Committee. Where the Examining Committee's decision is not unanimous, the majority view shall prevail.

Can a student rewrite? In the event of failure, a student may retake the exam with the permission of the Dean of the CGSR. A second failure automatically disqualifies the student from further work for that particular PhD degree.