Comprehensive Exams


In the Comprehensive Examination, the student must demonstrate a mastery of those academic areas appropriate to his/her research topic, as defined by the department of Sociology. In accordance with General Regulations, students must demonstrate knowledge of their special areas of research within the context of the discipline of Sociology. The topics to be covered in the Examination are determined by the Comprehensive Examination Committee (CEC) in consultation with the Supervisor/Co-supervisor and the student. See Memorial University Calendar (and here) regarding the CEC.

The comprehensive exam requires 2 essays, followed by 1 oral examination. The student must complete their written and oral components by the end of their 5th semester. Part-time students must complete their written and oral components within one year of completion of their courses. The student stipulates the start date of comps writing.

The written component is completed in a four week period. Each essay should be no longer than 8000 words, double-spaced, 12 font, excluding bibliography and title page. The CEC evaluates the essays and decides whether to proceed to oral examination. The oral examination will be held no earlier than 2 weeks and no later than 4 weeks after evaluation of the written component. The CEC evaluates the oral and determines the outcome of the full comprehensive examination.


Step 1
The student, in consultation with their supervisory committee, names two areas for examination from the following list: social theory; research methods (quantitative, qualitative or mixed); criminology; deviance; environmental sociology; social inequality; gender; sexuality; development sociology; work; culture; health; occupational health; political sociology; maritime sociology; science, technology and society. This will be forwarded to the Graduate Officer (GO).

Step 2
The student recommends the equivalent of 15 items for their reading lists in the two areas (Monographs count as 4 items; articles and book chapters as 1). This is forwarded to the Graduate Officer (GO). [The core reading lists will be reviewed yearly by the department]

Step 3
The Head constitutes a Comprehensive Examination Committee (CEC) for each student, based on the comprehensive areas by the student. The GO forwards the student reading list recommendations to the established comprehensive committee. These are combined with core readings set by the department.

Step 4
The final reading lists of approximately 75-85 items, consisting of student recommendations (15) and core readings from departmental lists (65-70), along with sample questions, is assembled by the CEC and forwarded to the student and the supervisory committee by June 15. A copy must be filed with the main office and the GO.

Step 5
Within six weeks of receipt of the lists, the student emails the start date of their comprehensive examination writing to the GO. The student must begin their comprehensive writing by the end of their 5th semester and at least 3 months after receiving their reading lists.

Written Component

When the start date is one month away, the student advises the GO of their preferred order for essay writing. The CEC decides on final examination questions for the written component and forwards them to the Head to be given to the student by the main office in the order chosen by the student. The schedule for comprehensives writing is: Week 1: Comprehensive Exam essay #1; Week 2 and 3: Break; Week 4: Comprehensive Exam essay #2. Comprehensive questions are normally picked up by the student on a Monday morning and the essay returned the next Monday morning.

The student’s CEC evaluates the two essays, meets within two weeks and decides if the student: (a) proceeds to oral component; (b) should be re-examined on 1 or both written essays; (c) has failed the written component and will not proceed to oral.

If the decision is to proceed to oral examination, it will be held within 4 weeks. If the decision is re-examination, the committee must provide detailed reasons why one or both comprehensive essays must be rewritten and re-examined. The committee must establish a timeline for the completion of the rewriting and re-examination. Only one re-examination of all or part of the written component is allowed. If the decision is fail, the student’s program will be terminated immediately.

Oral Component

The oral component of the comprehensive examination evaluates the student’s capacity to understand, synthesize and articulate the areas appropriate to his/her research topic, as defined by the department of Sociology and covered by the written component. The oral will normally be completed no earlier than 2 weeks and no later than 4 weeks following CEC decision on the written component. The oral component is not open to the public. Normally, all members of the CEC committee must be present during the examination.

The Chair of the CEC (Head or Delegate) introduces the student and members of the CEC, and reviews the procedures for the examination. The student gives a 10-15 minute overview of the main observations and conclusions presented in the written comprehensive examination. The student may use visual aids in the presentation. Then the Chair invites two rounds of questions from the CEC related to the written component submitted by the student. Other questions may be asked to confirm that the student has adequate knowledge in the chosen areas of study. At the end of the second round of questions, the student leaves the room and is recalled when a decision is made by the CEC.

The CEC reaches its collective decision on the combined written and oral components of the examination. The CEC has four choices:
a. Pass with distinction: awarded to candidates who demonstrate superior knowledge of their chosen field. This category requires unanimous support of the Comprehensive Examination Committee.
b. Pass: awarded to candidates who demonstrate an acceptable knowledge of their chosen area and requires a simple majority vote.
c. Re-examination: indicates those candidates with an understanding of their research area that lacks sufficient depth and scope as indicated by a simple majority of the Comprehensive Examination Committee.
d. Fail: students awarded a 'fail' are deemed, by unanimous vote of the Comprehensive Examination Committee, to be unable to demonstrate an adequate understanding of their research area. The candidate’s program is terminated. A simple majority vote will default to the award of 're-examination'.
Only one re-examination (of all or part) of the oral component is allowed. Failure in re-examination will lead to immediate termination of the candidate's program. See regulations for re-examination here.

The Chair of the CEC reports the final result of the comprehensive examination to the Head of the department who, in turn, reports the result to the Dean of Graduate Studies and the department Graduate Officer. The Dean of Graduate Studies advises the student in writing of the comprehensive examination result.