General Comprehensive Examination

There are two comprehensive examinations, each based on a bibliography. The purpose of the general comprehensive exam is to ensure breadth and to assess competence in the religious diversity of North America and in religious studies. The purpose of the field exam is to focus an area of specialization containing the dissertation project (see p. 22) The general comprehensive exam is conducted by the joint committee and the field exam is conducted by the student’s supervisory committee. A candidate has only two opportunities to complete each of the examinations successfully. Failing either exam twice results in an expulsion from the program. These examinations normally take place by the end of the candidate’s second year in the doctoral program. To be permitted to take the examinations at a later time, a candidate must petition the director for an extension. Extensions are normally granted only once and, then, only for one term.

The general comprehensive exam is usually offered mid-November, though it can be delayed in exceptional circumstances. It is based on a common bibliography prepared by the Joint Committee. The examination questions are the same for all members of a cohort and answered in two stages:

  • Part A: One four-hour sitting (with a 15-minute break) where students answer 1 out of 2 questions
  • Part B: One take-home style exam written over a 24-hour period where students answer 2 out of 3 questions.
  • Students will be asked to sign a form agreeing to not discuss their work with other students within the 24-hour period

Members of the Joint Committee read and assign preliminary percentage marks to each question on the general exam. These are averaged to arrive at the final mark for the exam. The student must attain an average grade of 77% for the whole exam in order for a student to pass.

The general examination has three thematic areas of coverage (see p. 19 for complete bibliography):

  1. Theory and general religious studies
  2. North American religion: history and historiography
  3. Religious diversity in North America: case studies and approaches

77%, that is, B+, is the minimum passing grade for each of the comprehensive exams. WLU transcripts record a “pass” or “fail.” UW transcripts record a “completion” (or not). The joint program retains percentage marks on file for future use, for example, when faculty are writing recommendations. Bibliographies, exam questions, answers written by students, preliminary marks, and final marks become part of the joint program’s record for a student. These are the standards that apply to the comprehensive examinations:

Letter grades and their equivalents
Letter GP Percent (%) Meaning
A+ 12 90-100 Exceptional
A 11 85-89 Excellent
A- 10 80-84 Very good
B+ 9 77-99 Good
F 8 <77 Failing

These are the criteria for evaluating comprehensives; the items are not of equal value:

  1. QUESTION, TOPIC: Do the answers respond directly to the question? Do they stay on topic?
  2. QUALITY OF WRITING: Are grammar, spelling, and sentence construction well handled? Are the answers well organized, clear, readable, and logically coherent?
  3. BASIC IDEAS, DEFINITIONS, THEORIES, METHODS: Do the answers demonstrate comprehension of the readings? Do the answers handle these materials
  4. analytically and reflectively rather than naively?
  5. CONCRETENESS, DETAIL: Do the answers root generalizations in concrete examples and specific illustrations? Do the answers show a grasp of relevant details?
  6. ORIGINALITY: Does the exam exhibit originality of thought and/or independent thinking? Do the answers demonstrate an ability to synthesize, apply, critique, or in some other way go beyond mere summaries of readings?
  7. SELECTION AND HANDLING OF SOURCES: Do the answers systematically and clearly distinguish the writer’s contributions from the ideas of others?