Western University PsychologyFaculty of Social Science

Comprehensive Examinations

Goal of Comps

The goal of the comprehensive examination is to provide breadth and depth. Students complete an in-depth study in their subfield of psychology, but to by working outside their specific thesis topic. If a student’s comprehensive examination does not fulfill both these goals, the advisory committee should have an alternative mechanism in place to provide the required breadth and/or depth through another means, including coursework, independent study or practicum.

Comprehensive Exam Advisory Committee

Each student’s examination is supervised by a committee comprising three faculty members none of whom are the student’s supervisor/co-supervisor. At least one member should be a full-time member of the Psychology Department. Committee make-up is determined by mutual agreement between the student and supervisor.


The examination is to be completed in the first or second year of the Doctoral program. It should be possible to complete the exam (including any preparatory study) in one semester. Students will register for the comprehensive exam course code (PSY 9999) in the semester that they will complete the examination.                      


The topic(s) and format of the comps exam are determined by mutual agreement between the student, supervisor and advisory committee. The exam can consist of multiple topics, each supervised by a different committee member, or a single topic that is to be explored in greater depth. In either case the committee provides a list of directed readings on the topic(s) of choice, and provide consultation as the student studies for the exam. This is then followed by a written component and possibly also an oral defense.

The format of the written component is flexible; it might be a series of shorter answers done in-class or take-home; or a longer document such as, but not limited to: essay(s) in response to questions formulated by committee members; and original review paper on the topic; a grant proposal; a registered report; a meta-analysis.

The oral examination is completed if the committee deems it important, it could precede the written exam, or follow it.


Grading is pass/fail, and is based on the quality of the final essay(s) and subsequent oral defense. In the case of an examination with multiple written and/or oral components, the student must pass all components to have passed the exam. In the case of a failing grade on one or more component, the student is given one opportunity to repeat those that were deemed insufficient. The final result (pass/fail) is adjudicated by the advisory committee and communicated to the graduate administrator.