Comprehensive Examinations

Comprehensive Examinations

Comprehensive examinations ("comps") are a standard feature of historical training in the United States. The examinations require the examinee to demonstrate mastery of historical scholarship and historiography in a major field, including specialized mastery of the authors, themes, works, and topics most relevant to the intended dissertation topic. All students register for HIST 708/709 (Directed Independent Reading for Comprehensive Examinations) for two semesters, once in the semester prior to the one in which they are scheduled to take the examinations (normally the fifth semester of the student’s program) and the second in the same semester as their examinations (normally the sixth semester of the student’s program). As noted above, these courses do not count towards the nine-credit readings seminar requirement.

Comprehensive examinations include the following:

  1. A special field examination in the form of an essay. Students prepare an essay of four thousand (4,000) to five thousand (5,000) words in length [sixteen to twenty (16-20) pages, double-space in a 12-point font]. The special field is a subfield of the major field in which the dissertation is centered.
  2. A take-home major field examination administered in written format. Students have forty-eight (48) hours to complete the exam, which should be five thousand (5,000) to six thousand (6,000) words [twenty to twenty-four (20-24) pages, double-space in a 12-point font] in length.
  3. A two-hour oral examination by the examination committee, including coverage of both the take-home major field exam and the essay that comprises the special field exam.

Timeline: The comprehensive examinations are administered during the first half of the student’s sixth semester in the program. The special field essay has to be submitted to the Graduate Coordinator before the student takes the major field examination. The oral examination follows within two weeks of passing the major field examination and the special field essay. Students entering the program with an MA in History might be expected to complete their comprehensive examinations during their fifth semester in the program. (Also see the “Combined Timeline for Comprehensive Examinations and the Prospectus” at the end of this document.)

Reading Lists: The format, content, and length of the reading lists for the comprehensive examinations vary by field but the list should normally be in the range of two hundred (200) to two hundred and fifty (250) books. Of these, about two thirds (2/3) should be in the major field and one third (1/3) in the special field. In all fields, students develop their reading lists in consultation with their advisors and other members of the examination committee. The reading list must be compiled and approved by the examination committee by the end of their second year summer (after the student’s fourth semester in the program). For students coming in with an MA in History who would like to take their examinations during their fifth semester in the program the list must be ready by the end of the student’s third semester. After approval, limited changes may be made solely by mutual agreement of the student and his/her advisor.

The Examination Committee: The examination committee consists of three or four members of the Graduate Faculty, typically all members of the History faculty. The Director of Graduate Studies designates the committee members and Chair, in consultation with the major advisor and the student. The committee chair shall not be the student's advisor. All committee members contribute questions to the written and oral examinations. Most or all of these same committee members are normally also on the student’s dissertation committee but the composition of the examination and prospectus committees do not need to be the same.

Grading: Comprehensive examinations will be graded pass, pass with distinction, or fail.

COMBINED TIMELINE FOR COMPREHENSIVE EXAMINATIONS AND THE PROSPECTUS

  1. Both the initial version of the prospectus and the special field essay are due before the major field take-home examination during the first half of the sixth semester of student’s program.
  1. The major field take-home examination should be completed also during the first half of the sixth semester of student’s program after the initial version of the prospectus and the special field essay are submitted.
  1. The two-hour oral examination on both the take-home major field exam and the essay that comprises the special field exam follows within two weeks of passing the major field examination and the special field exam. This oral exam can take place during the second half of the sixth semester of the student’s program.
  1. The one-hour oral examination based on the initial version of the prospectus also takes place during the second half of the sixth semester of the student’s program but only after successful completion of the two-hour oral examination (#3 above).
  1. The final version of the prospectus as approved by the advisor is due on the first day of the academic semester that immediately follows the comprehensive examinations, which is normally the seventh semester of the student’s program.