Comprehensive Exams - PhD

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 with full-time faculty teaching courses or doing research in their fields. Sample questions from previous exams are available from the 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.

Grading of the Comprehensive Exams

There are at least two independent graders for each exam. Some of the factors considered in grading a field exam include: comprehension of the answer, breadth and depth of knowledge, comprehension and critical appraisal of the appropriate literature including the demonstration of familiarity with well-established authors in the field, capacity to use theories and concepts to assess issues and problems in the field, logical organization of the answer, and clarity of presentation.

Students are notified of their final grades approximately four weeks after taking the exam. Students who do not pass are encouraged to contact the Chair of the Comprehensive Exam for that field as soon as possible, to be briefed and learn about possible ways to improve.