Comprehensive Exam

Data Centre
Students enroled in the PhD in HIS program are required to pass a comprehensive written and oral exam prior to beginning work on their dissertation. The purpose of comprehensive exams is to ensure that the student has the requisite knowledge foundation to proceed and be successful in the program.

Information concerning comprehensive exams

Timing and Format

The comprehensive examination usually takes place within five terms of registration. It includes a take-home, written examination on a reading list determined by the student in consultation with the Examination Committee, followed by an oral examination of that written document and materials on the reading list, usually lasting approximately two hours.

Reading List Guidelines

The student will determine the reading list in consultation with the Examination Committee. A draft will be prepared by the student and then refined by the Committee, taking into account the interdisciplinary nature of the HIS program.

The length of the reading list, and its final content, are negotiated between the student and the Committee to meet general and more focused content requirements. As a guiding principle, a list of 6-8 single spaced pages (journal articles and/or books/monographs).

Examination Process

The usual model is of a six-week reading period, followed by a 5-day (Monday-Friday) writing period, a grading period, and the oral examination, as follows:
  • Monday morning: student receives examination questions, which have been pre-approved by Examination Committee
  • Friday afternoon: student is required to submit their written examination answers by 5:00 p.m.
  • Grading period: Examination Committee reviews the answers and determines pass/fail
  • Oral Examination: is conducted within 1-2 weeks of submitting written exam and takes approximately two hours


Both the written and oral examinations are graded as Pass/Fail, according to the majority of examiners. The student must pass the written examination in order to proceed to the oral examination. The student must pass both components of the comprehensive exam in order to progress in the program.

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