Those Manilla Envelopes and Blue Books can only mean one thing: our first-year graduate students are taking their Comprehensive Exams.
The comprehensive exam is an annual affair here in the Department of Geography & Planning. Aptly named, it is a comprehensive examination over all of the material that a graduate student completing their first year of study should know.
Each graduate student has three professors selected from our department faculty who best reflect their areas of interest. These professors make up their exam committee. The committee, in turn, selects the questions that will be on that student's exam. Some of the questions are based on their retention of concepts from the GEPL 6150 Research Methods and GEPL 6100 Philosophy & Methodology classes. Other questions are tailored to their area of interest, such as GIS, Planning, or Cultural Geography. For these questions, each professor makes available a selection of roughly 10 articles and journals in their respective area of interest for the students to read and study.
Day One is the Written half of the exam.
Students are given a full day to answer their questions in essay format. While that can lead to some serious writer's cramp, our faculty are not without heart. They provide a table filled with morning snacks and some pizza for lunch to help the students get through their rough day.
Day Two is the Oral half of the exam.
Here each student meets face-to-face with their exam committee. They are given a chance to address the committee about their answers in the written exam. This way they can clarify what they meant in their writing and elaborate on the questions they wrote too little about. One other benefit of having the Oral exam on the following day is that it gives the students a chance to study up on the areas where they found themselves lacking during the written exam. In the full spirit of a dialectic, the oral exam is a question and answer session. Through this format the exam committe is better able to judge the student's overall grasp of their studies. Oral exams usually take about 45 minutes per student.
After the Exam
After the exam, each student is notified whether or not they:
b)Passed with conditions or
A full pass means that the grad student is free to complete the program. They are encouraged to immediately begin work on their Masters Thesis. A conditional pass means that some sort of assignment must be completed and submitted to their exam committee before they can complete their degree. A fail means that they must retake the comprehensive exam.