Comprehensive Examination

Academic Year: 
Course Code: 
ENVS 6999
Course Description: 

1st year

The Comprehensive Exam, held in May and/or early June of the first year, is intended to test the student’s overall level of achievement during the course of the first year of the program. It provides the basis for the student’s grade in the first year. Students must successfully complete all other required first-year program elements, including the literature review, prior to taking the comprehensive exam.

The comprehensive exam consists of two questions, Q1 and Q2, each of which includes a written and an oral component.

In the final evaluation, both Q1 and Q2 will have equal weight. Students will be graded on their ability to both explain basic theoretical and methodological concepts and on their ability to demonstrate their applicability to their chosen research topic.

Written responses to Questions 1 & 2 are submitted on moodle (turnitin). Students have one week to submit a written response to each question. There is a 5,000 word limit on each question, not including references and table of contents. Students should be aware that papers will not be read past the 5,000 word mark and points may be taken off for longer submissions. The written responses will be evaluated by the supervisor and one internal committee member.

The student defends the written responses in front of the supervisor, the internal committee member, and the chair, who is usually a member of the DPC, who is not serving on any student’s committee. Oral defense time is 45-60 minutes. Students make an opening student of 5-10 minutes. The remaining time involves a critical engagement with the written component and the student’s opening oral comments. It should include approximately 20-25 minutes discussion on each question.

Further details about the exam are provided on the Moodle website.

The proposed dates for the 2019 Comprehensive Exams (TBC) are as follows:

Q1 Written exam: May 3-10

Q2 Written exam: May 14- 21

Q1 and 2 Oral exams: May 28.

Learning Outcomes: 

The comprehensive exam is an opportunity to demonstrate the student's overall level of achievement during his/her first year of study in the doctoral program.  In order to successfully complete the comprehensive exam students must demonstrate: 1) the capacity to engage theory in light of a given topic, issue, or problem and vice-versa; 2) substantive knowledge of theories, concepts, and methodologies, particularly as they relate to his/her specific dissertation research topic; and 3) critical thinking skills and the ability to articulate reflective and knowledgeable responses to challenging questions.


In order to pass the comprehensive exam, students must specifically demonstrate the following:

  • Intellectual maturity in his/her study area and more generally
  • Ability to think analytically and theoretically; and to assert and justify appropriate methodological approaches and tools
  • Ability and willingness to grapple with epistemological issues including  the limits and uncertainty of knowledge
  • Presentation and organization skills (e.g., clarity, logical progression, focus, use of time in the case of oral responses, etc.)
  • Comprehensiveness and relevance (i.e., are the key points covered and does the response answer the question?)

Students must obtain a grade of B+ or above on each of the two questions to advance in the program.