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Comprehensive Exams in Economics

Students must successfully complete an examination in Preliminary Theory based on ECON 802 Macroeconomic Analysis I and ECON 803 Microeconomic Analysis I at the end of their first full year of classes (or whenever they have completed both courses).

The Exam is typically administered during the first full week of June. Students must register to take the exam in mid-March in order to be guaranteed a seat.

Doctoral students are required to pass one written comprehensive examination on preliminary theory and one oral comprehensive exam which is the 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.

Time Limits and Permitted Attempts

Students have only two attempts to pass the Preliminary Theory comprehensive exam.

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.

Administration of PhD 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.

Research Paper Requirement 

Students must submit a substantial and original research paper prior to defending the dissertation proposal. The paper is due on the last day of the academic year in which course requirements are completed. The research paper serves as a comprehensive examination. The paper must be graded on a “pass”/”fail” basis by a faculty member of the department. A student who does not submit a passing paper by the due date may apply one time to the program director to submit a revised paper. Resubmissions are due on the first day of the next academic year.


  1. Students inform the Program Director which faculty member is mentoring and will grade the paper via this form. The form must be completed by Nov. 1 before the student’s paper is due. 
  2. Students submit the paper not later than 5pm eastern time on the last day of final exams for the spring semester in the academic year that the final course credit (exclusive of ECON-898) is completed. Submit by e-mail to with the subject line “Research Paper Requirement Submission.”
  3. Department staff distribute papers and comp grading forms to designated faculty members by e-mail.
  4. Faculty mentors complete grading in a timely manner, typically within 10 business days of the due date. The faculty member will submit a grade of pass/fail on the comp grading form to with a copy to the student. If the grade is “fail,” R&R comments must be provided.
  5. For passing papers, department staff complete the graduate action form and forward to CAS staff.
  6. For failing papers, resubmissions are submitted by 5pm eastern time on the first day of the following fall semester. Resubmissions are graded by the same faculty member as the first attempt. Other procedures are similar.