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. Organize a group meeting with your committee early in the term to discuss the format and any other details concerning your exam. Section one and two of the Comprehensive Examination Committee and Report Form is to be completed and provided to the Graduate Office once the committee has been formed and the first meeting date has been set.


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 (PSYCHOL 9999) in the semester that they will complete the examination. In the first month of that semester, complete sections 1 and 2 of this form and submit to the Graduate Assistant. Organize a group meeting with your committee early in the term to discuss the format and any other details concerning your exam.


The content and format of the comprehensive exam are determined after discussion between the student and comprehensive examination committee in a meeting with the student early in the term in which the student is registered in the comprehensive examination course. Once the format is determined (and the relevant form submitted), the relevant work occurs over the course of the term with the committee providing ongoing consultation and guidance as needed. Additional committee meetings may be held as needed. An oral defense may be included if the committee decides one would be useful. Once the exam is completed, the student is responsible for submitting the relevant form, signed by all committee members and the student's advisor, to the graduate office.

The format of the written component of the comprehensive examination is meant to be highly flexible, designed to address needs of the student in terms of scholarly development as well as meeting any didactic goals the committee feels are important.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of potential formats:

  • A grant proposal that includes all components of a typical grant submission to the relevant agency (e.g., NSERC, CIHR, NIH).
  • A synthetic review paper in the style of a major journal in the relevant field (e.g., Psych Bull).
  • A detailed critique of an experimental method that discusses the assumptions, strengths, and weaknesses of the method.
  • A critical review paper written on a classic book or other major work in a field of psychological science.
  • A registered report.
  • A meta-analysis.
  • Multiple short answers or longer essays in response to relevant topics formulated by committee members.

Due Date

Due date is to be determined by the committee and student as this will depend on the format of the comprehensive exam.


The committee’s decision regarding the outcome of the comprehensive exam is due to the Graduate Office within 10 days of the end of the term, OR by the last date for grade submissions of that term, whichever is latest.

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 documented on page two of the Comprehensive Examination Committee and Report Form, that is then submitted to the graduate administrator.