Comprehensive Exams

Comprehensive exams are a mandatory component of doctoral programs at McGill. The purpose of comprehensive examinations is to determine whether the student demonstrates the necessary research skills and academic achievements to continue in the Ph.D. program.

The comprehensive examination (or its equivalents, such as qualifying examination, core area examination, preliminary examination, candidacy paper, comprehensive evaluation, thesis proposal, etc.) is program-specific. Units must provide their students with detailed information regarding timing, format, and assessment parameters in advance of the examination.

Please refer to the PhD Comprehensives Policy for the university-wide framework for comprehensive exams.

Best practices

There can be no more than two comprehensive exams (a retrospective and/or a prospective comprehensive exam). Retrospective comprehensives assess foundational knowledge of the discipline, while prospective comprehensives assess the student’s ability to conduct independent and original research. Depending on the format(s) they choose, units must respect the following guidelines when establishing their comprehensives:

Additional resources

For practical advice on preparing for comprehensive exams, consult the Graduate Supervision website.

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Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, McGill University.

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