Comprehensive Exams

The purpose of the comprehensive exams is to satisfy the committee that the candidate is familiar with the context of their dissertation, is adequately prepared to begin work on their dissertation, has developed three areas of professional competence, and is familiar with typical problems, including problems of method.

The areas of the candidate's comprehensive exams are determined by the candidate's supervisory committee. Requirements shall be as uniform in difficulty as possible. The areas shall be reasonably broad. In normal circumstances the candidate is to be assumed to devote the equivalent of approximately six months to preparation for the examinations.

The exams comprise three written papers and an oral examination. The written components of the comps should normally be scheduled within two consecutive weeks, with the oral following four to seven days after the last written component. Precise scheduling of the exams should be initiated by the student in consultation with the examination committee and the Associate Director for Academic Affairs.

The exams will be set and assessed by an examination committee normally consisting of the candidate's supervisory committee. The student's primary advisor typically serves as the chair of the examination committee. With the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies, changes may be made to the examination committee — for example, additional members (from within or beyond ISAW and NYU) may be added if the areas call for additional expertise. The chair of the examination committee should inform these additional members of standard practices and expectations at ISAW.

The written papers are determined by the examination committee and based on a reading list composed by the student in consultation with the committee. The reading list will consist of primary sources and secondary material as appropriate for the areas. The candidate's areas and the format (the nature of the questions and the number of questions/choices) of the written papers must be approved by the ISAW regular faculty at least six months before the exams.

It is recommended that the student and committee members be in regular contact during the six-month period when the student is preparing intensively for the exams. Frequent meetings to discuss the readings are encouraged, and mock examinations are a useful way to gauge whether a student is sufficiently prepared.

The written papers will be written under examination conditions, with a duration of three hours each. (Specific exam questions should be circulated to all committee members and to the Associate Director for Academic Affairs at least one week prior to the exam date).

Following the written exams, the candidate will be provided with copies of their written answers without delay. The written papers are assessed on a pass/fail basis.

If a candidate's written answers indicate the likelihood of a pass, the candidate will be asked to attend an oral examination. The function of the oral exam is to confirm or modify an opinion based on the candidate's written papers.

If the candidate fails either the written papers or the oral exam, one adjournment is permitted. The examination committee may rule, in voting for an adjournment, that part only of the written papers need be repeated, the candidate's answers to the other papers being allowed to stand over. Unsatisfactory performance in the oral exam will normally result in an adjournment.

The chair of the examination committee will create a written summary of the strengths and weaknesses of the student's performance on the written and oral exams in consultation with the committee. Upon approval by the committee, the chair of the examination committee will send the student this summary, with copies to the committee, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the Associate Director for Academic Affairs.