Western University PsychologyFaculty of Social Science

Ph.D. Comprehensive Examinations

SPDP Area Guidelines for Ph.D. Comprehensive Examinations

Students, in consultation with their advisory committee (which includes their supervisor), will choose the format of their comprehensive exam from one of the options listed below. The topic(s) on which these activities are based must be different from the student’s thesis topic, and will be chosen in consultation with the student’s advisory committee. Once the topic(s) are chosen, and mentors/examiners set, the student will be encouraged to meet regularly with mentors. All options involve both a written component and an oral exam. Comprehensive exams must be completed within one term and by the end of the PhD2 year. The examining committee will be selected by the student’s advisory committee and approved by the Cluster Chair. The examining committee will consist of three members (not including the supervisor), at least one of whom is a member of the student’s advisory committee, and at least one person who is not on the student’s advisory committee. 

Option A.  One topic will be chosen and explored in depth. The format of the written component will be selected from the list below. The student’s examining committee will assign some background readings to get them started. The general expectation is that at least 20 research/review papers will be referenced.

1)    A grant proposal in SSHRC format (or for another relevant tri-council agency). The proposal must include all components expected for an Insight Grant application (or similar competition).
2)    A synthetic review paper in the style of Current Directions in Psychological Science or similar. 
3)    A detailed critique of an experimental method that discusses the assumptions, strengths, and weaknesses of the method.
4)    The student will read a classic book/major work (published more than 20 years ago) and write a paper discussing the impact that the work has had on subsequent work in the field.
5)    Develop, write and submit for review a registered report (including introduction and methods) for a piece of research the student intends to conduct
6)    Another written format, involving a similar amount of effort as the above, to be approved by the examining committee. 

Option B. Two topics will be chosen. For each topic, the student will have a list of 10-20 readings, selected by the examining committee in consultation with the student. The written component is a take-home exam. The student will be given a choice of two questions for each topic by the examining committee and will be expected to produce a 10-page essay on each topic within 2 weeks.

Grading is pass/fail, and is based on the quality of the written component 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 examining committee and communicated to the graduate administrator.