Comprehensive Examinations

 Summary of Steps to take for Comprehensive Exams:

  1. Meet with supervisor and GPD.
  2. Determine 3 subfields.
  3. Fill out the approval form for subfields and bibliographies.
  4. Write your bibliographies.
  5. Write your justification essays.
  6. Fill out the approval form for justification essays.
  7. Obtain final approval from GPD.
  8. Oral examination.

 Subfield Determination

  • Doctoral students will meet with their supervisors and with the Institute's Graduate Program Director (GPD) during their second year at the Institute, in order to decide upon three sub-fields in which to be examined and three examiners. 
    • One of these three sub-fields will be the sub-field in which the student’s dissertation topic is located, and this examination will be given by the student’s supervisor.
    • The other two sub-fields will be relevant to the student’s dissertation topic, and these examinations will be given by two other Institute faculty members, or by one other Institute faculty member and one faculty member from outside the Institute.
    • Normally, a student must have taken a graduate-level seminar with a professor in order to pursue an examination with him/her.
  • Fill out the sections for subfields and have your supervisor and each examiner sign their approval on this form. Once all of your subfields have been approved, if you agree with their determination, you need to sign the form, and then have the GPD sign as well. Return this form to the Student Affairs Coordinator.


  • In consultation with each examiner, the student will draw up a short bibliography for each of the three sub-fields. Normally this means thirty-five to forty works of which approximately two-thirds will be average-length books.
  • The bibliography will consist of the most important works in the history of scholarship in that sub-field as well as several examples of current scholarship that represent the state of the art in that sub-field.
  • Explicit, final approval of each bibliography is required from each examiner. After explicit, final approval of each bibliography has been obtained, the student must send an email with all three bibliographies attached to all three examiners, with a copy to the Graduate Program Director.

 Written Justifications

  • Once completed, each bibliography must be supplemented by a written justification (maximum: ten pages for each bibliography) of the choices that the student made in compiling that bibliography.
  •  Have your supervisor and examiners sign their approval on the justification essays form and return the form to the Student Affairs Coordinator.
  • Once the three bibliographies have been compiled and the three supplements have been written, they must be submitted to and approved by the Graduate Program Director.

Final Approval and Examination Date

  • Once approved by the GPD, the bibliographies will be fixed, with no further changes allowed, and a date for the examination will be set by the Student Affairs Coordinator.
  • By the date of the examination, the examinee will be expected to have read and mastered all the works listed in each of the three bibliographies.

Oral Examination

  • The examination itself will be entirely oral, will last a maximum of two hours, and will be chaired by the GPD.
  •  Each examiner will be allocated 30 minutes in which to ask questions of the examinee on particular matters arising from the works contained in the sub-field bibliography, and on general matters pertaining to the examiner’s sub-field.
  • The final half hour will be devoted to follow-up questions.
  • At the end of the examination the student will leave the room and the examiners will decide on a grade of Pass or Fail.
  • A grade of Pass will be given when the student has passed all three sub-fields.
  • A grade of Fail will be given when the student has failed one or more of the three sub-fields.
  • If a grade of Fail is given, the GPD will arrange for the student to take, within a three-month period following the original oral examination, a previously unseen, invigilated written examination in the failed sub-field(s), to be set and marked by the original examiner(s) and reviewed by the GPD. If a grade of Fail is given in one or more of the written examination(s), the student must withdraw from the Institute's graduate programme.
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