The Catholic University of America

Comprehensive Exams

Registration

Students taking master’s level comprehensive examinations may take them during their final semester in the program alongside other courses. In contrast, before a student can take doctoral level comprehensives, it is expected that all other requirements including coursework and language examinations be completed. A student may register for one semester of master’s comprehensives, and two semesters of doctoral comprehensives. If you see an advisee attempting to register for further semesters of comprehensives beyond these, notify the appropriate associate dean.

Students must register for comprehensive examinations and have their credentials reviewed by the Academic Area Director and in the office of the dean of the school at the beginning of the semester. Please follow this link to view the comprehensive exam dates.  [NOTE: STRS approved dates do not necessarily follow those in the University Academic Calendar] 

Students register for all comprehensive exams through Cardinal Station.  A student must be registered for the exam in the semester in which the exams are to be taken (including summer session). Course numbers for the comprehensive exam, with or without classes are TRS 598X and TRS 599X respectively, the “X” being either A, B, C, D or E (your degree program).

In addition to registering for comprehensive exams through Cardinal Station, students must obtain approval of the dates they intend to take the exam. The form for requesting approval to take comprehensive exams can be obtained from this link.

In addition to registering for the comprehensive exam, students must inform the Director of their Academic Area of their intention to take the exam during a particular semester. All students must have fulfilled all of their language requirements in order to take their comprehensive exam. In the event of a failure, a comprehensive exam may be re-taken once.

Once the form is complete and all required signatures have been secured (Advisor, Area Director, and the Dean) the form is forwarded to the Exam Coordinator. Approved Requests for Comprehensive Exams must be on file with the Exam Coordinator at least one month prior to the requested test date window.  Confirmation of the approved test dates will be communicated to students at the end of each month via email.  Students who have not registered for comprehensive exams (through Cardinal Station) in the semester in which they intend to take the exam will not be permitted to sit for the exam as requested. This applies to comprehensives taken in the summer as well.

Registration for comprehensive exams entitles the student to generate appropriate comprehensive exam bibliographies with faculty and to maintain all student privileges for the semester that the student is registered for the comprehensive exams.

If the student is registered for any other course during the semester in which the student plans to take a comprehensive exam, there is no charge for the exam.  However, if registration in a particular semester is for comprehensive exams only the charge will be the equivalent of one credit hour.

When the Exam can be taken

M.A., S.T.B. Comprehensive Exams are offered Fall, Spring and Summer, according to the STRS Exam Calendar. Ph.D. Comprehensive Exams are offered at these times, and also offered five additional times throughout the year.  On a case-by-case basis, the University’s Vice-Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies may approve additional dates. S.T.L. students are not bound by these pre-set dates, but schedule and take their written and oral exams after their thesis has been approved by their thesis director and reader in consultation with the Academic Area Director.

Who creates the Exam

It is the responsibility of the appropriate program chairs (listed below by program) to solicit relevant exam questions from the appropriate faculty and to create the exam.

  • S.T.B. Chair of Ecclesiastical Degrees Committee
  • S.T.L. Chair of the Examining Board (usually the student’s thesis director)
  • Ph.D. Chair of the Examining Board (usually the student’s academic advisor and/or projected dissertation advisor)
  • M.A. student’s Area Director

Exam Day and Grading

A computer lab will be reserved for those taking comprehensive exams during a given exam window. NB: It is the student’s responsibility to make sure their CUA Network login is up to date prior to the date of the exam.  This is the password students use to login to computers for the exam.  It is not the same as the Cardinalmail password. Follow the instructions located at https://home.cua.edu/index.cfm?main=myreset to reset passwords that are out of date.

Normally, students are to come to Caldwell 106 a little before 9:30 a.m. on the day of the exam. At that time the proctor will distribute the examinations, provide specific directions relative to the examination and turning-in completed exams.  

The proctor provides the completed exam to the faculty member responsible for coordinating its grading. Completed exams are to be picked up by the faculty member responsible for coordinating its grading, in person or through secure electronic communications, not via faculty mailboxes. The faculty member responsible for coordinating the grading of the exam will then distribute copies of the exam to the appropriate members of the faculty (readers) for evaluation.   The exam coordinator may use the faculty mailboxes to distribute copies of the exam to the readers.

In addition to evaluating the student’s performance (on a grade sheet designed by the academic area), readers will also fill in Student Learning Assessment Rubrics without the student’s name as a means of assessing the effectiveness of the degree program.  The Area Director will collect, record, and report the results of the exams within two weeks of the last day that the exam was taken to the Assistant Director for Graduate Admissions who will then record the results in Cardinal Station and in the student’s file.  The Academic Area Director will also communicate the results of the comprehensive exam. The Academic Area Director will provide the completed Student Learning Assessment Rubrics to the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies. 

M.A. Comprehensive Exams

Students may take these exams in the last semester of their coursework. The subject matter for the exam is contained in the comprehensive bibliography used for each degree program. Students petition to take Masters comprehensive exams by submitting the Comprehensive Exam Request for Approval Form. When the exam is completed, faculty members in the relevant Academic Areas will grade the exams. Within two weeks of the last day that the exam was taken, The Director of the student’s Academic Area will report the total grade for the comprehensive exams to the Assistant Director for Graduate Admissions who will record it. In addition to evaluating the student’s performance, readers will also fill in Student Learning Assessment Rubrics without the student’s name as a means of assessing the effectiveness of the degree program. The Academic Area Director will communicate the results of the student at the same time.

Ph.D. Comprehensive Exams

This exam may be taken after students have completed their coursework and language requirements and have completed or received a comprehensive bibliography that has been approved by their Examining Board. Students petition for the Ph.D. comprehensive exams by submitting the Comprehensive Exam Request for Approval Form. When the exam is completed, faculty members with relevant academic expertise will grade the comprehensive exams. Within two weeks of the last day that the exam was taken, The Chair of the PhD Examining Board will report the final grade for the comprehensive exams to the Assistant Director for Graduate Admissions who will record it. In addition to evaluating the student’s performance, readers will also fill in Student Learning Assessment Rubrics without the student’s name as a means of assessing the effectiveness of the degree program. The Academic Area Director will communicate the results of the student at the same time.

S.T.B. Comprehensive Exams

Students who are nearing the end of their coursework may take this exam. Students petition to take comprehensive exams by submitting the Comprehensive Exam Request for Approval Form. Students may use a Bible during the examination.  When the exam is completed, the Chair of the Ecclesiastical Degree Committee (EDC) will distribute the completed exams to the relevant faculty to be graded within two weeks of the day that the exam was taken, and then report the final grade to the Assistant Director for Graduate Admissions who will record it. In addition to evaluating the student’s performance, readers will also fill in Student Learning Assessment Rubrics without the student’s name as a means of assessing the effectiveness of the degree program. The Chair of the Ecclesiastical Degree Committee (EDC) will communicate the results of the student at the same time.

S.T.L. Comprehensive Exams

Students may take this exam as soon as they receive approval in writing for their thesis from the thesis director and reader, but not before the mid-point of the final term of residency (October 31st or March 15th). To be eligible to take the comprehensive exams, students must maintain a 3.00 cumulative average (in their coursework and thesis). Once each student’s thesis director and reader have approved the thesis, the student petitions to take comprehensive exams by submitting the Comprehensive Exam Request for Approval Form.  The Director of the student’s Academic Area will appoint the student’s thesis director and reader and a third member of the faculty from a relevant Academic Area as members of the student’s examining board. The examining board is responsible for preparing questions for the exam and submitting them to the Chair of the EDC, who will coordinate the written exam, and then give the exam to the Exam Coordinator to be administered.  When the exam is completed, the exam is graded by the three members of the examining board. The chair of the examining board communicates the results of the exam to the entire board and the student. The oral exam usually takes place one week after the written exam. In order to pass the exam, the student must receive an average grade of 3.00 from the examining board. The student is informed of the results of the oral exam at the conclusion of the exam. The chair of the examining board will submit the results to the Assistant Director for Graduate Admissions for recording. In addition to evaluating the student’s performance, readers will also fill in Student Learning Assessment Rubrics without the student’s name as a means of assessing the effectiveness of the degree program.

S.T.D. Comprehensive Exams (Lectio)

Before defending the dissertation, the candidate must undergo an oral examination on the origins, history, and contemporary status of the major area in which the dissertation topic lies. At least one month before submitting the written dissertation the candidate shall present a list of five topics indicative of familiarity with the major area to the dissertation committee, who will serve as examiners for this examination. A sample copy of the topics and bibliographies form can be found here. The dissertation director and readers collaborate with the candidate in drafting the questions for the lectio. The topics are then submitted to the Chair of the Ecclesiastical Degrees Committee and the Dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies for final review. The lectio topics ought to have some demonstrable connection with the dissertation, but should not be of the kind that would make the dissertation defense unnecessary. This means that the lectio topics might treat material, arguments, or methodologies related to but not identical with those of the dissertation, or mentioned but not developed in the dissertation.

Each of the five lectio topics should be accompanied by a bibliography consisting of 5-7 resources most relevant to that topic. In determining these bibliographies consideration may be given to relevant non-English resources. The questions asked by the examiners are to be based primarily on the lectio presentation itself rather than on its bibliographical resources.

Some days prior to the examination, the Dean will determine which of the topics is to be presented in the examination and will duly notify the members of the examining board. Twenty- four hours prior to the examination, the Dean will duly notify the candidate of the topic.

The candidate prepares and delivers a 25 minute lecture on the topic. The candidate may not use a full written text but may use a one page outline as lecture notes to guide the presentation.

The candidate’s major professor will chair this examination. The time for questioning will be allotted to the members of the board as they determine. Each examiner will give a secret grade and the final grade will be the average of the three grades.

The grading system will be as follows:
3:75 Excellent - summa cum laude
3.5 Outstanding - magna cum laude
3.25 Superior - cum laude
2.5 Pass -probatus
Anything below 2.5 is a failure.

If the candidate fails this examination, he or she will not be permitted to defend the dissertation. The Dean of the school, on consultation with the major professor, will determine when the examination may be repeated. A second failure means that the candidate is no longer eligible for the degree.
 

Comprehensive Exam Preparation

Sample exams and reading lists are available for preparing for the respective comprehensive exam.  The reading lists are intended to assist the candidate in preparing for the comprehensive examination. The list should complement the work done in courses taken.