All PhD students are required to take an oral comprehensive exam given by members of their supervisory committee. To schedule a comprehensive exam, students must use the Comprehensive Examination Checklist.
Purpose of the examination
The comprehensive exam serves two functions: (1) to create an opportunity for general learning in student's field of study and (2) to evaluate the preparation of the student for doctoral level study.
Scope of the examination
The comprehensive examination is intended to test the student’s understanding of the chosen field of study as a whole and the student’s preparation for the thesis research to follow. This examination is not a thesis defence and is not designed to query the specifics of the student’s proposed research. The examination will cover the general area of the student’s research. Each candidate is expected to be able to discuss any other areas that are closely related to their own research work.
Timing of the examination
This examination must be completed within 24 months of initial registration. Thus, a MSc student who transfers to the PhD degree program after one year will have only six months after the date of transfer to complete the examination. Students are advised to complete the examination before becoming deeply involved in their research work. A student who is not admitted to candidacy within 36 months from date of initial registration must withdraw from the program.
Requirements and preparation
Readings: Before taking the comprehensive exam, it is recommended that students contact all members of their committees at least 2-3 months in advance of the expected exam date for suggestions on readings and other preparation for the exam.
Proposal: Before taking the comprehensive exam, a student must submit to the department a written research proposal that has been approved by their supervisor and committee (see Thesis Proposal for more information).
Presentation: At the beginning of the examination, the student will present a 15-20 minute talk on the background of the questions discussed in the proposals. The presentation should discuss the state of knowledge about the questions in the defence and defend the reasons for asking those questions. This presentation is not meant to be a discussion of the methodology in the proposal, which should be discussed in a regular committee meeting leading up to the exam.
Scheduling the Exam
Review the Comprehensive Examination Checklist for further instructions. You must include the Examination Chair, Rick Taylor in the initially scheduling emails and polls. If you wait to contact the Chair until after you have scheduled you exam, you risk having to reschedule it if the Chair is not available.
The Examination Committee will consist of all members of the Supervisory committee (minimum of 4) plus the Chair. To schedule a Comprehensive Exam, please follow the instructions in the Comprehensive Examination Checklist. If one member of the supervisory committee is not available because of leave, substitution may be made upon the advice of the Graduate Advisor or arrangements made for teleconferencing. Although the supervisory committee may include members who do not hold professional board appointment in the research stream, pass or fail decisions will be made by UBC research faculty members only.
The exam will begin by a brief introduction by the Chair. The student will then present a 15-20 minute (or certainly no more than 30 min) discussion of the questions involved in his/her proposal (see above). Each member of the examination committee will then be given 15 minutes for questions assessing the student’s general knowledge of the subject area. The supervisor is the last one to ask questions and the Chair does not pose questions. Then each committee member will be given the opportunity for a second round of questions, not to exceed five minutes each. This second round is intended for clarification of issues previously raised and not for new lines of questioning except in unusual circumstances.
Results of the examination
Following the examination, the committee will hold an in-camera session and the candidate will be asked to retire from the room. The Supervisor will be asked to discuss the candidate in general, but will not register an opinion on pass or fail until after all other committee member have discussed the exam and registered an opinion. The Supervisor may then be asked to retire from the meeting. The remaining Committee members will discuss the candidate and then vote which, if necessary, may be by written secret ballot.
The pass/fail decision made by the Supervisor will not be revealed to the Committee members until after completion of their discussion and vote. The pass/fail decision will be by simple majority of the votes cast by members of the Examination Committee. In the event of a tie, the deciding vote will be cast by the Chair. In the event of a marginal pass, the committee may apply conditions (e.g., course work, directed readings). The committee must then determine the arrangements for ensuring that the conditions are met. These should be included in the Chair’s report.
The Chair will then recall the candidate and Supervisor to the meeting and announce the result of the vote. Written notification of the decision made by the Examination Committee will be sent to the Head of the Department. The candidate will either pass or fail the examination. A candidate who fails the first attempt must pass a second examination that will be scheduled to take place within six months of the first examination. Failure to pass a second examination will result in the student being required to withdraw from the graduate program.