College of Nursing

Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing

Comprehensive Examination

Purpose, Policy and Timeline

The purpose of the comprehensive exam, according to the College of Graduate Studies and Research (CGSR) Policy and Procedure Manual (, is to determine whether the student has a "mature and substantive grasp of the field as a whole". Normally, this will occur after course work is complete and before beginning the doctoral research and dissertation. (CGSR P&P Manual section 5.3.1). The comprehensive exam is usually held within 24 months of commencing the program, as the PhD is to be completed within six years of commencing the program. The comprehensive exam is chaired by the chair of the Student Advisory Committee (SAC).

Process for Comprehensive Examination

The Student Advisory Committee is responsible for determining the detailed procedure for the administration of the examination. Each member of the Student Advisory Committee (excluding the Chair) and the doctoral student may submit two to three questions to the Supervisor. The Student Advisory Committee will convene in person or by email to review and select three questions (one question in each area of examination) by consensus. The three areas of examination are: (1) nursing theory and philosophy (knowledge of the discipline), (2) substantive theory and research pertinent to the student's field of study and (3) research design and analysis. The final questions for the written and oral components of the examination will be checked and refined for the best possible wording.

The SAC chair will give the Graduate Programs Assistant the task of sending out the questions by email to the student, with a copy to the other Advisory Committee members. The PhD student will return the three papers to the committee within 28 days of receiving the questions.

The written component will be assessed on a pass/fail basis. Each paper will be weighted equally towards the overall assessment of the written submission. The student will be provided written feedback one week prior to the oral exam. During the oral component, the student will have an opportunity to discuss the papers, respond to questions by the examiners and provide clarification. At the completion of the oral component, an overall pass/fail grade will be given based on the CGSR minimal pass of 70% for the PhD program, which is satisfactory according to the literal descriptors for graduate studies. (Appendix L, CGSR Policy and Procedure Manual)

For the oral component of the comprehensive exam, each Advisory Committee member will ask questions based on their review of the three papers. Starting with the cognate member, each committee member will ask the student a question related to the written paper. There will be two rounds of questioning, followed by any last questions as time permits. The oral component will take no more than 2.5 hours, leaving at least 30 minutes for the Committee decision process.

After the question period is over, the student will be asked to leave the room, while the Committee discusses the written and oral components of the exam and reaches consensus on the evaluation of the student's performance. Following these deliberations, the student will be called back into the examination room and the Chair will inform the student of the committee's decision whether the student's overall level of performance was a Pass or Fail.

Repeating Comprehensive Exam (If Required)

The comprehensive examination may be repeated once, with permission of the Dean of the College of Graduate Studies and Research. The Graduate Chair will contact the Dean of the College of Graduate Studies and Research to arrange a repeat examination. In the case of a repeat examination, the same questions will be used again. The PhD student who has passed the comprehensive exam is deemed a PhD Candidate.