Comprehensive Exams

Comprehensive examinations (written and oral) must be completed by May of the student’s second year in the program (PhD 3).


  • End of your first year: Outline a schedule to prepare for exams with your supervisor.
  • Fall of PhD 3:
    • Complete and submit comprehensive bibliography and research topics to the Area.
    • Notify [at] of your intent to take the exams November 1.
    • Supervisors submit committee membership list to [at] by November 15.
    • Students will receive the written comprehensive examination questions no later than February 1. Answers will be submitted to [at] no later than April 1.
    • Oral examination will be scheduled in May.
    • Presentation topic for the Oral Examination portion must be submitted simultaneously with the Written Portion of the comprehensive examinations.

Written Exams

3 papers are written over a two-month period, typically from the start of the semester. Questions are based on your research bibliography, general discipline bibliographies provided by the Area, and your background (including seminars taken at McGill). Papers 1 and 2 are 15 pages, double-spaced.

  • Consists of questions exploring the historical, practical and theoretical aspects of the proposed dissertation research topic as well as the general field of Music Education as deemed necessary for each individual student. Questions are intended to develop a broad perspective on the student's research topic and/or to fill in general knowledge gaps in his/her background as related to the field of Music Education.
  • The examination is written over a two-month period. A total of 3-5 questions will be answered in essay format with an total anticipated length of 5-20 pages (typed, double-spaced, 11-pt) per question. Answers will total 60-65 pages, not including bibliography. Students will have some choice in the questions to be answered.
  • Prior to writing their comprehensive examinations, students must have completed at least one 3-credit course on Research Methods or equivalent as approved by the Music Education Area as part of their seminar requirements.

Oral Exam

  • When: Approximately one month after the written examination is submitted.
    90 to 120 minutes question period on the written examination.
  • Part 1:  30 minute public lecture presenting a specific position and cogent argument on a current issue or topic in Music Education, followed by 30 minutes of questions by the committee and public.
  • Part 2: 30-60 minutes of questions on the written exam in private session.


  • Regularly meeting with supervisors.
  • Extensive reading that focuses on topics in which you are not well versed related to the field of Music Education and your area of research.
  • Preparing of mock presentations and responding to questions.
  • Writing sample questions and answers.
  • Discussing with other Area students who have completed, or are preparing for, their comprehensive examinations.


  • Three full-time staff members from the student's area of specialization
  • One member from a different area within the Department
  • The Associate Dean of Graduate Studies in Music, or an appointed representative, serves as Chair.
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