The comprehensive examination tests a student’s knowledge and capacity for critical analysis of a particular research topic. Exams cover four domains related to the identified research topic, which also align with the four required social work courses in the curriculum: 1) substantive area; 2) theories of human behavior; 3) interventions (micro, mezzo, or macro, including policy); and 4) research methods and analyses. Exams typically are conducted the year after coursework (a minimum of 43 credits must be complete). Passing the comprehensive exam indicates a student’s readiness to begin the dissertation. Only after passing the comprehensive exam does a student qualify as a doctoral candidate.
Comprehensive exams proceed in three stages, with the guidance of a supervising faculty committee. The first stage is completing comprehensive literature reviews in each of the four areas noted above. The second stage is a written exam, which is comprised of an essay written in response to one question for each of the four domains (i.e., substantive area, theories, interventions, research methods/analyses). The final stage is the oral defense, which occurs within 10 days of completion of the written exam. The committee assesses the written and oral components of the examination. The student must pass the exam to advance to PhD candidacy, and proceed with their dissertation.