Comprehensive exam overview
The PhD comprehensive exam tests the knowledge of the PhD candidate on topics related to the student's field of research and is used to judge whether the student has a mature, broad, and substantial understanding of the discipline as a whole, as evidenced by an oral examination.
In Pharmacy, the comprehensive exams must begin in term four. What this means is that the examining committee appointment should be submitted with a plan for scheduling the comprehensive exam, to ensure that the examination is passed (including any resulting conditions) by the end of term seven, as per program requirements.
For additional information about the comprehensive examination committee, timeline, and assessment, see the expandable content, below.
Comprehensive Examination committee
The comprehensive examination committee is comprised of three to five examiners, normally drawn from the thesis advisory committee, and an impartial chair from the School of Pharmacy who is normally the graduate officer or his/her delegate*.
Examinming Committees appointments are subject to minimum requirements for the PhD degree and must be approved in advance.
If a thesis advisory committee member cannot be present (e.g., is on sabbatical leave), an alternate may be selected, if necessary to comply with the regulations.
Faculty who are not members of the student’s thesis advisory committee may, at the recommendation of the thesis advisory committee, be invited to the comprehensive examination. If they are invited they are granted full voting privileges.
Comprehensive exam timeline and procedure
At least 16 weeks prior to the proposed comprehensive examination, the student should complete and submit the Pharmacy Comprehensive Exam meeting request form to the Administrative Coordinator Graduate Studies and Research.
- Upon receipt of the exam meeting request, the graduate administrative coordinator will prepare the comprehensive examining committee appointment paperwork, and submit it for approval.
After approval of the examining committee is received, and at least 10 weeks prior to the comprehensive examination, the supervisor, in consultation with the other examiners (the examination committee) must provide to the graduate administrator a proposal that includes:
- the subject matter of the examination
- a list of references that corresponds to the subject(s). The reference list must include full citations. Where references are not readily available to the student, the supervisor may provide them to the graduate administrator via e-mail attachment.
The proposed arrangements are subject to approval by the graduate officer.
Eight weeks prior to the comprehensive exam, the student will receive written notice from the administrative coordinator stating the date of examination, composition of the examination committee and subjects for examination, including reference materials.
Four weeks prior to the exam, the supervisor will collate and submit the examination committee’s list of exam questions and answers to the administrative coordinator for graduate studies.
Each expert member is required to submit:
- three questions, each requiring about 10 – 20 minutes to answer fully in oral format
- an outline of each of the expected answers. This will ensure that the questions are of the right length but will also help non-experts to assess the students’ answer. Failure of the supervisor to submit examination questions and answers four weeks before the exam may result in the cancellation of the exam.
On the day of and one hour before the exam, the examination questions will be delivered to the student in the examination room; the student is given this time to prepare answers for the questions. During this hour, the student may refer to readings from their assigned list as well as any study notes they have created, to aid in their preparation for the oral examination. Please note that internet use is not permitted.
The oral examination is two hours, and is attended by the examining committee. During the exam, the impartial chair selects the questions which each expert member will ask. At least six questions will be addressed within the two hour limit, with at least one being from each expert member. The student may use the whiteboard or flip chart to help them articulate their responses, as needed. Similarly, in the case of an online exam format, the student may share their screen to show relevant material (i.e., table, figure, drawing) from their readings, study notes, or notes prepared in the preceding hour to help articulate their responses.
Upon conclusion of the two hour examination, the student is dismissed; the examining committee remains in the examination room to complete the assessment after which time the student is invited back into the room to hear the results of the exam.
Comprehensive exam assessment
Immediately following the exam, the student will leave the room.
The examination committee will then discuss the student’s performance and assess the responses to each of the questions. A vote will be taken for a pass/fail on every question (majority rules); the student must attain a 60% pass for a global recommendation of option 1 or 2 (see below).
The committee will make a recommendation to the graduate officer, on the PhD Comprehensive Examination Report (completed by the Chair, on behalf of the committee).
Possible recommendations of the committee:
The student has passed the exam and nothing further is required. The administrative coordinator will process the milestone completion form, and the PhD comprehensive exam milestone will be recorded on the student's transcript.
The candidate is permitted to continue in their program on the condition that they also complete a supplementary program of study, as specified by the committee. The student may be required to take an additional course, or courses, or meet some other special conditions such as a special assignment. The Supervisor is responsible for seeing that the conditions are fulfilled within the specified time.
Students who fail to meet the conditions set by the committee will be required to withdraw.
The examination is adjourned to a later date, to be set by the committee. Adjournment is called if the candidate is weak in certain areas and the Committee feels that further studies followed by re-examination would be beneficial. Normally only one adjournment will be permitted.
In the case of a deferred decision, the re-examination must normally be repeated within four months.
The candidate is required to withdraw from the program.