Design of the Comprehensive Exams

The exams are essays based on the current state of knowledge in each field as indicated by the literature. A field examination is not based upon specific courses taken at Wagner or elsewhere. Doctoral students are therefore urged to consult appropriate faculty for assistance in preparation for the exams.

Comprehensive exams typically consist of a choice of two or three questions to be answered within a five hour time period. However, specific guidelines may vary, so students should speak with the faculty member(s) coordinating their specific exam for details.

Preparation for the Comprehensive Exams

Preparation for the Comprehensive Exams includes coursework, independent study and, when possible, group study.

  • Coursework: Students must select courses that will prepare them to be literate in the given field. However, rather than focusing on individual courses as ends in themselves, the approach should be to consider them as tools to access aspects of a given field. Whenever possible, students should write course papers that will help them prepare for the exam.
  • Independent Study: Students should consult the field description for specific references which they will be expected to know. Also, follow up on recent and current bibliographical references and consult with full-time faculty teaching courses or doing research in those fields. Sample questions from previous exams are available from the Assistant Director of the Doctoral Program. Students can practice by writing answers to these sample questions (within the time limit given by the actual examination.)
  • Group Study: The program recommends that students form study groups in preparation for the exam, when possible.