Comprehensive Exam

Course Description: 

The Comprehensive Exam, held in May of the first year, is intended to test the student’s overall level of achievement during the course of the first year program. It is graded, and provides the basis for the student’s grade in the first year. It consists of two questions:

‘General’ Question 1. tests the student’s ability to engage an environmental problem in light of a theoretical framework, facilitated in part by their accrued knowledge and experience in the course, “Theoretical Debates on Environmental Problems”;

‘Research topic and methodology’ Question 2. is based on theory and methodology relevant to the student’s chosen research topic, which will be set by the Supervisor and informed by the student’s Literature Review and Theory Study and Method Study Program report.

Learning Outcomes: 

The comprehensive exam is an opportunity to demonstrate the student's overall level of achievement during his/her first year of study in the doctoral program.  In order to successfully complete the comprehensive exam students must demonstrate: 1) the capacity to engage theory in light of a given topic, issue, or problem and vice-versa; 2) substantive knowledge of theories, concepts, and methodologies, particularly as they relate to his/her specific dissertation research topic; and 3) critical thinking skills and the ability to articulate reflective and knowledgeable responses to challenging questions.


In order to pass the comprehensive exam, students must specifically demonstrate the following:

  • Intellectual maturity in his/her study area and more generally
  • Ability to think analytically and theoretically; and to assert and justify appropriate methodological approaches and tools
  • Ability and willingness to grapple with epistemological issues including  the limits and uncertainty of knowledge
  • Presentation and organization skills (e.g., clarity, logical progression, focus, use of time in the case of oral responses, etc.)
  • Comprehensiveness and relevance (i.e., are the key points covered and does the response answer the question?)

Students must obtain a grade of B+ or above on each of the two questions to advance in the program.