Comprehensive Examination in the Ph.D. Program

No earlier than the last semester of coursework, and only after satisfying the language requirement, you will take a comprehensive examination over the major and two minor fields. Full-time PhD students with a history MA are expected to pass their Comprehensive Examination in the fourth or fifth semester in the PhD program, and in any case within six months of finishing the required coursework.

•    The written component of the Comprehensive Exam consists of a series of essays that you will write over a whole semester or longer at the discretion of your committee. You will write one essay of about thirty pages length in each of your minor fields and two such essays (or one longer one) in the major field. Your field advisors, in consultation with you, will determine the format and content of these essays, based upon the nature of the field, the content of their coursework, and the reading lists and bibliographies developed for the Reading for and Writing Comprehensives courses. The essays will be based on a series of broad questions and, in most fields, will be historiographical in nature.

The essays are not collaborative papers that you can submit to your advisors for comments and suggestions while you are writing them. After questions or topics have been formally assigned and you begin, you are not allowed to discuss their substance with any faculty members.

•    The Comprehensive Committee, which you and your advisor pick and which the Director of Graduate Studies must approve, oversees and administers the exam. In most, but not all cases, the Comprehensive Committee is identical to the Advisory Committee. It must comprise at least one representative from each of your minor fields and two from your dissertation field. All graduate committees, including this one, should normally consist of tenured and tenure-track faculty. Other instructors at University of Memphis, untenured or non-tenure track instructors from other institutions, and unaffiliated scholars, with appropriate graduate faculty status may serve, but only with the approval of the committee chair and by a formal petition to the Graduate Studies Committee providing a full explanation of the reasons for the request.

•    Preparation for the Comprehensive Exam should begin with the first Ph.D. class, and, for M.A. students anticipating continuing in the Ph.D. program, with the first graduate class. Students should consult with their field advisors about the nature of the exams and what they should be doing to prepare for them. This should include preparing in every class, whether this is assigned or not, a written electronic document summarizing and analyzing the important issues, scholarly debates, important books and articles, and other field-specific concerns, which you can later use as the basis for your Comprehensive Examination essays.

•    The compilation of reading lists is an important part of the comps process. Since the examination is designed to test your knowledge of each field, it will not be confined to material covered in classes and the books and articles you read in them. We expect you to demonstrate an intellectual command of the subject matter, historiography, current scholarly controversies, bibliography, and whatever else is expected in each field.

At least one full semester in advance of the examination (and usually earlier than this), you should prepare a list of all the books and major articles that you have read, or plan to read, including those on the common field readings lists, and papers that you've written in each field and submit this to the members of the Comprehensive Committee. You should then meet with each committee member to see if the examiner suggests that you do any specific additional readings and to begin to formulate the content of the written exams. However, it is ultimately your responsibility to survey the literature of the field.

While reading lists for exams will vary in length and content, in most cases they will include at least 30-50 monographs in minor fields and at least 60-100 in the major field, and/or the equivalent in major articles.

•    In most cases you will take only Reading for and Writing Comprehensives classes in the semester(s) of the comprehensive exam, so that you can devote your full effort to it. To register you will need to fill out and have the professor of each section sign a Readings for Comprehensives form. Take the form to Karen Jackett, who will enter a permit.

•   The timetable for completing the exam essays is determined by the professors in consultation with you, and need not be before the end of the Reading for and Writing Comprehensives classes. So long as you are making progress on the exam you should always receive an S grade, not an IP, for a Reading for and Writing Comprehensives class.

You should discuss with your committee whether it would be advantageous to work on all exams for the entire examination period, or whether it would be better to stagger them, so that you could continue to consult with your professors in the fields in which the exam questions had not yet been posed. You must complete the exams in the course of not more than two semesters.

•    The oral exam will take place following the submission of the written portion of the Comps. You must work with your advisor to schedule the oral exam. In the course of this exam, members will discuss the written comps with the student, ask for clarifications and elaborations, make suggestions and corrections, and ask further questions concerning the fields.

·    The committee will evaluate your comprehensive exam following the oral exam. They will pass you, pass you with distinction, or require you to retake one or more written parts. You will pass the comprehensive exam only if the committee unanimously concurs. Note that even if some committee members feel that you performed adequately in their fields, you do not formally pass their parts and fail others; you can only pass or fail the exam as a whole.

•    A rewrite of an exam will necessarily involve a major reconceptualization and revision of your essay, and may not be resubmitted earlier than the semester following the first attempt. After you have rewritten all required parts, the committee may choose to hold another oral exam, or it may decide simply to vote on whether to pass you or not. In either case at least three of the four committee members must approve in order for you to pass at this stage. If there are more than four members of the committee, as sometimes happens, there can still be only one dissenting vote at most for you to pass.

•    Submit the comprehensive examination form ( to the Director of Graduate Studies and the departmental office upon successful completion of the comprehensive exam.

·•   It should go without saying that plagiarism is unacceptable and will result in dismissal from the program.