Department Comprehensive Exams

A comprehensive examination is required of all candidates for the Master of Arts in Anthropology, to assess Learning Goals (see appendix). The exams may be taken by students in good standing (minimum GPA 3.0) after completing all required core and concentration courses or the term when final requirements are taken. Comprehensives should be taken during or after the completion of the practicum, but can be taken before completion of the practicum in certain circumstances.  

Comprehensives are held twice during each academic year: once in the fall and once in the spring. The Department faculty sets exam schedules at the start of each semester. Written examinations are held over a two-day period. The oral examination takes place on a third day. 

The exam consists of two portions: The first is a set of written exams completed over two days, focused on the core courses and on each student's specific interests and program of study. The oral portion of comprehensive exams occurs on Day 3, which is scheduled approximately a week after the written exams are completed. Candidates are expected to demonstrate excellence in performance throughout all portions of the exam.

Each candidate must finalize their committee by the end of their first year. The committee consists of at least three members, including a chair. Candidates must select a committee in consultation with their chair, request each member's participation, and obtain their written consent to serve. Committee members should have Graduate Faculty status or its equivalent (e.g., comparable professional experience).  The committee chair will compile the written exam, in consultation with the candidate. 

Written Examinations

Written exam topics are to be planned out in consultation with the committee chair at the start of the semester. Day 1 exams consist of two synthetic questions based on the four core classes, one linking content from ANTH 7075 and 7076 (Anthropological Research Methods and Data Analysis), and the other ANTH 7200 and ANTH 7255 (Anthropological Theory and Applied Anthropology). Students should contact the instructors of these courses for guidance on studying for the exam. Students are responsible for drafting sample questions for Day 2 exams and submitting them to their committee within the first month of the semester in which they plan to take comprehensive exams, and for planning a meeting with their committee to discuss and refine these sample questions. The committee will write the final Day 2 exam questions.

Exams are four hours in length each day. Typically, exams are held on consecutive days, and run from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Candidates who arrive late will not receive additional time to complete the exam.

Candidates are expected to prepare typed exam essays on computers. Requests to complete essays in longhand must be approved in advance by the committee chair. A computer lab will be reserved for written exams. Unauthorized individuals may not enter the lab during exams. Academic misconduct of any form is not tolerated.

Students registered with Disability Resources for Students (DRS) may request special accommodations for testing; provide documentation from DRS to the Graduate Coordinator at the start of the semester. Flash drives, practice essays, books, articles, and similar materials are forbidden. Email, internet, cell phones, and similar items must remain off. No food or beverages can be consumed in the lab. Students may bring essential items (e.g., prescription medication) and take breaks as needed, but candidates must remain near the lab at all times; all conversation is forbidden.

Students must adhere to the University policy on academic conduct, posted online at: memphis.edu/studentconduct/academic-misconduct/index.php.

Typically, candidates will be provided with a packet containing their exam questions. Before composing essays, candidates should create and save a file on the Desktop under their surname. It is advisable to begin each essay on a new page with the candidate's name and the title of the topic. It is not necessary to save each answer under a different file heading.

It is also helpful to paginate and to create a running header by surname, but neither is required. It is advisable to correct spelling and grammar only after all questions have been completed if time permits. Candidates are urged to save files regularly. A faculty supervisor will assign candidates to computers, distribute exam packets, and proctor the exam. The proctor will announce when the exam period has ended. All candidates must stop writing when informed that the exam period has expired. Should a problem arise, contact the main office (678-2080) or exam proctor.

 All written exam essays are graded by each of the advisory committee members and by the person who posed the question (if not a committee member). Written exams are evaluated for (1) content (depth of detail, accuracy of detail, integration of source material); (2) analysis (critical thinking, original contributions to theory and/or practice, synthesis); and (3) style (clarity of writing, organization of ideas).

 Passing or failing an individual question is decided by majority vote, or by the evaluation of the committee chair in case of a tie. In voting decisions, committee members should pay particular heed to the evaluation of the person who has posed the question. Committee members are not bound by this person's evaluation.

 Written exams are graded High Pass, Pass, Fail, or Conditional Pass. A conditional pass may translate to Pass through successful performance in the oral examination, or a student may be asked to write new essays as a take-home assignment after the oral exam. A conditional pass may also translate into a Fail if the oral exam/essays are deemed unsatisfactory. Any student who fails the comprehensive exam will have one opportunity to retake it (both written and oral portions).

Students may not receive more than two conditional passes on Day 1.  That is, three conditional passes is equivalent to failing Day 1.  In this case, students would need to retake the Day 1 exam in a subsequent semester.  No conditional passes will be awarded for questions on Day 2; students either Fail or Pass Day 2 exams. If a student fails Day 2 they would need to retake Day 2 in a subsequent semester. If a student fails both Day 1 and Day 2, they would need to retake both written exams in a subsequent semester.

Comprehensives cannot be retaken until exams are administered during the following semester. 

Oral Examination

The purpose of the oral comprehensive exam is for students to deepen and refine their analysis of key concepts with guidance from faculty, reflect on their experience in the program, and address any deficiencies in their written exams.

Orals are scheduled by the student in consultation with their committee. They should follow soon after completion of the written exams. Typically, orals are 1-2 hours in length and do not include a break. Any faculty member may read any written exam or attend any oral. Unauthorized individuals may not attend the exam.

Normally, orals are moderated by the candidate's committee chair. During the oral, committee members may ask any question deemed appropriate. Typically, questions focus on the candidate's written exam responses and practicum. Overall performance on the whole of the oral exam must be acceptable to the advisory committee (not more than one dissenting vote is allowed).

Upon conclusion of the oral, the committee will inform the candidate of their grade on all written and oral portions of the comprehensives. This will complete the comprehensive examination. All comprehensive exam results (pass or fail) are reported immediately and in writing to the Graduate School.

The following are guidelines for faculty and students in preparing for and running oral exams:

1. Instructors of core classes and committee members should provide written feedback to the committee chair in advance of the oral exam.
2. None of this written feedback will be shared with the student in advance of the exam, and none of the comments should be sent to the student after the exam without the permission of the commenter.
3. Committee chairs can inform students in advance of the oral exam if they need to prepare to address deficiencies with particular questions. Students will not be informed whether they passed or failed the written exams prior to the oral exam, since this determination will be made based on committee discussion and student performance at the oral exam.
4. Faculty may plan to meet a half hour before the student arrives to discuss priorities for the oral exam and to develop a consensus on the evaluation of the written exam.

Comprehensive Exams, Misc.

A student's Comprehensive examination, with the grades given, must be retained in the Department files for three years. Any exceptions to the comprehensive examination policies and procedures of the Department of Anthropology must be approved by the student, the student's committee, the Graduate Coordinator, the Department Chair, and, if necessary, the Graduate School.