Fall 2014 Cohort

Comprehensive Exams ("Comps")

In addition to meeting the coursework requirements, students must pass two comprehensive examinations, or “comps,” for advancement to PhD candidacy. These comps must cover two different subfields (one for each exam). Typically, these subfields are defined by existing sections of the American Sociological Association.

There are three steps involved in completing each Comprehensive Examination:

  1. Determine the type of exam.
    One of the two comps must be an empirical paper. The other can be: (i) an empirical paper, (ii) a meta-review article, or (iii) an actual exam. These are described in detail below. We recommend you write an empirical paper as your first comps. For all exams, the type and content of the exam are to be negotiated between the faculty on the committee and the student.
  2. Form a committee.
    The two comps should be chaired by two different faculty members. Each committee will consist of at least three faculty members, with at least two faculty members from Sociology. The student chooses the chair and two additional members, subject to the approval of the graduate program director (GPD). If the GPD fails to approve your nominees for a comprehensives committee, you can appeal that decision to the Graduate Policy Committee.
  3. Pass the exam.
    The full committee of three faculty members must be present for the defense of each paper or exam; in unusual circumstances committee members could call into the defense. All three committee members must approve the paper/exam in order for you to pass. The student must pass the first exam before taking the second. If the student fails, they may be permitted to repeat it at a later date. If this performance is evaluated as a failure or a low or marginal pass, the Comprehensive Committee or the graduate program director may recommend that a student leave the program.

Here are detailed descriptions of the three types of exam:

  • Empirical Paper
    The empirical paper may be qualitative or quantitative. After its approval by committee members, it will be presented orally at a public gathering or “defense” open to all members of the department community, followed by a question and answer session. The committee will meet after the oral presentation to discuss the strengths and limits of the paper and presentation.
  • Meta-review article
    The meta-review is an empirical, theoretical, or analytic review of a literature (similar, for example, to the work in the Annual Review of Sociology). These review articles should make an argument and should show mastery of the subfield. After its approval by committee members, it will be presented orally at a public defense, open to all members of the department, followed by a question and answer session. The committee will meet after the oral presentation to discuss the strengths and limits of the paper and presentation.
  • Written exam
    Students can take an exam over ten working days (two weeks), or do it in one 8-hour session and turn it into the Sociology Graduate Office. Exams are based on an area reading list defined by committee members and the student. In most cases, the graduate student will put together a reading list for the exam, which will then be revised and approved by the committee. Occasionally, a student may choose to use the appropriate cluster reading list. Committee members are responsible for constructing the exam. Within one month of the completion of the written exam, the student undergoes an oral defense with the Comprehensives Committee; this is not a public event.