Doctoral students are required to pass three written comprehensive examinations. These are: a preliminary theory exam; an advanced theory exam in the student's chosen theory track; and one applied field exam in the student's field of specialty. The fourth comprehensive exam is the oral defense of the student’s dissertation proposal. The members of the student’s prospective dissertation committee serve as the student’s examiners for the proposal defense.
Comprehensive examinations for doctoral students are given twice each year, in January and in June. In order to sit for a comprehensive, students must have taken and successfully passed all courses required for that particular exam. The courses required for each theory track and applied field exam are listed on the Ph.D. Requirements Page.
Students are advised to apply for comprehensive examinations when they register for classes or maintain matriculation each semester. It is the students' responsibility to consult their advisers, papers published on campus, and/or notices posted in the department for application deadlines each semester. E-mails will be sent to students who provide their e-mail addresses with announcements of registration deadlines. Responsibilty for registering by the deadlines lies strictly with the students. Approximate dates (e.g., weeks) for comprehensive examinations will be announced in advance; exact dates for the individual examinations will not be be set until after the registration deadline has passed. Students are required to be present on those dates.
Time Limits and Permitted Attempts
Students have only two attempts to pass the Preliminary Theory comprehensive exam. A student who passes the Preliminary Theory exam on the first attempt may have three attempts to pass the advanced theory exam in the student's chosen theory track. A student who requires two attempts to pass the Preliminary Theory comp may attempt the Advanced Theory comprehensive only two times. Changing theory tracks does not increase the number of permitted attempts for the advanced theory comp. No more than four total attempts at the two theory comprehensives are permitted.
Full-time PhD students are required to take their Preliminary Theory comprehensive in June following their first year. If a student fails to pass, a second attempt must be made in a preliminary-theory retake session offered in August of that year. Failure to pass the Preliminary Theory comprehensive in the August session will result in dismissal from the program. The Advanced Theory comprehensive in the student's chosen track should normally be taken in the January of the second year, unless the student has to re-take the Preliminary Theory comp at that time. In the latter case, the Advance Theory comprehensive may be attempted at the next sitting after the Preliminary Theory exam is passed (for example, June following January). If a student does not pass an advanced theory comprehensive, the student must re-take it at the next available sitting (up to the maximum number of permitted attempts, as stated above).
All full-time students must pass their two theory examinations by January of their third year of full-time study or will be dismissed from the program. Students on fellowships or assistantships who do not pass their two theory examinations by June following their second year will not be eligible to receive financial awards in the third year.
All full-time students are required to pass the comprehensive in their chosen applied field of specialty by June following their third year of full-time study, as long as the necessary courses have been offered prior to that time. If a student fails a field comprehensive, only one re-take is allowed, and changing fields does not increase the number of permitted attempts. Anyone failing to meet this requirement will be given a written warning and given one more calendar year to complete all required comprehensives or be dismissed from the program.
Part-time PhD students must take the preliminary theory comprehensive at the first sitting after the required coursework is completed. A student who first takes the exam in June and does not pass must retake the exam in the August session two months later. A student who first takes the exam in January and does not pass must retake the exam the following June. Failure to pass the Preliminary Theory comprehensive on the second try will result in dismissal from the program.
Full-time students beginning in the spring semester are required to take their Preliminary Theory comprehensive in January following their first year. If a student fails to pass, a second attempt may be made the following June. Failure to pass the Preliminary Theory comprehensive on the second try will result in dismissal from the program.
Part-time students and students who enter in the spring are required to pass both of their two theory comprehensives by the first sitting (either June or January) following the completion of 36 credit-hours; otherwise, they will be given a written warning, after which they would have one calendar year to pass both theory comprehensives or be dismissed from the program. Part-time and spring entrants are also required to complete their applied field comprehensive examination by the first sitting after completing 54 credit-hours; otherwise, they will be given a written warning, after which they would have one calendar year to pass all comprehensives or be dismissed from the program.
Administration of Ph. D. Comprehensive Examinations
Complete anonymity is to be maintained for students in the grading of comprehensive examinations. A special identification number (not the regular AU identification number) will be issued to each student for each session of comprehensives; neither the system for assigning these numbers nor the names of the students taking the comprehensives are available to the faculty reading the comprehensives. Each comprehensive is graded by at least two professors. Should they disagree about whether a student passes, the examination is read by one additional reader. Students are allowed to know the names of the readers for each exam. Additional rules and regulations will be sent to all students who register for comprehensive examinations.