Comprehensive Exams Overview

Comprehensive Examinations are the second and final set of exam requirements for the Ph.D. degree. In these examinations, students are expected to demonstrate their knowledge and comprehension of the literature in three doctoral fields:

  • Research Methods (offered fall and spring)
  • A core doctoral field: Finance, Policy, or Management (offered only in spring)
  • Another established field or a customized field (offered only in spring)

Students must demonstrate their capacity to analyze and assess critically the major concepts, theories and research of each field and their ability to present these perspectives in a well-documented, cogent, clear and logical manner.


  • All three comprehensive exams must be taken within three semester of the first exam.
  • Students may take the three exams in these different semesters or may take two exams in one semester.
  • Students should pass all three comprehensive exams by the end of their fourth year in the program.
  • The comprehensive exams may not be waived.
  • Students who do not pass a comprehensive exam on their first try must take the exam again during the next scheduled exam period.
  • Except under unusual circumstances, students who fail any of the fields twice will be terminated from the doctoral program.

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 the Doctoral Field Descriptions and appropriate faculty for assistance in preparation for the exams.

The Research Methods comprehensive exam is a take-home exam in which students are asked to do a critical review of the methods used in an empirical study. It is offered both fall and spring semesters.

The other 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.

Each field exam is scheduled once a year, in the spring semester. Students should consult the academic calendar for exact dates.

Preparation for the Comprehensive Exams

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

  • Planning: Students should begin with careful, multi-year planning based on the full description of the doctoral field. Such planning should start as early as possible, certainly by the second semester of the first year.
  • 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.