Comprehensive Examinations for the Ph.D. in Education are an opportunity for faculty to assess a student’s areas of expertise and knowledge claims prior to moving forward with a doctoral dissertation.

You must complete your coursework or be enrolled in your last semester of coursework in order to be eligible to begin doctoral comprehensive exams.

All courses completed must have a permanent grade posted before writing begins.

Negotiating Claims of Knowledge/Areas of Expertise

During the pre-comps meeting you will present your claims of knowledge/areas of expertise to the Program of Studies committee. You will then negotiate with the committee which of these claims will be tested on the comprehensive examination.

The Program of Studies Committee (which becomes the Comprehensive Exam Committee once writing begins) must be comprised of a minimum of three members, with the majority (i.e., at least two) being tenure-track faculty from the School of Education.

Pre-Comps Meeting Requirements

  • Claims of knowledge/areas of expertise must be substantiated by your coursework and experiences; including coursework approved as transferable on the program of studies.
  • The majority of faculty members on the committee must agree that your areas/claims are legitimate.
  • You must complete the Written Comprehensive Examination Form and have it signed by all committee members. This form will be filed in the Office of Student Affairs
  • The pre-comps meeting must take occur – except in rare cases – during the semester prior to when you wish to write your examination responses.

Reading List

The reading list is a comprehensive list of all of the sources you expect to use in your written exam.

  • The reading list may be an electronic or hard copy.
  • You must submit your reading list at least two weeks prior to the start of the writing period.
  • Faculty have one week to make changes to your reading list and they must communicate those changes to the Chair of the Program of Studies Committee.
  • The Chair will communicate changes to you at least five days prior to the beginning of the writing period.

Examination Question and Response

All of the faculty members of the Program of Study Committee will write one question for you two answer, relevant to your claims of knowledge/areas of expertise. You will be told the areas and general topic of the question after the pre-comps meeting, but you will not receive the exact question until the official start of the writing period (see below).

Response Requirements

  • Write your response as a paper intended for publication. You are strongly encouraged to submit this work for academic review or as a conference presentation.
  • The text of your response (not including reference lists) may not exceed 50 pages, typed in 12 point Times New Roman font, double-spaced, single-sided, with 1″ margins.
  • You must follow APA formatting.
  • You must indicate your adherence to the UNC-Chapel Hill Honor Code by signing the Honor Pledge on the Written Comprehensive Examination Form.

The Writing Period

You will receive your specific question at 9:00a.m. on the first day of your writing period. You will then have 6 weeks (42 days) to complete your response.

The start and end dates of the writing period will be determined during your pre-comps meeting, noted on Written Comprehensive Evaluation Form, and communicated to all Program of Studies Committee members by the Chair via email.

Writing Period Guidelines

  • The Office of Student Affairs will set final dates during each semester by which writing must begin and conclude. These dates reflect a 3-week period allotted to faculty members and the Chair to evaluate and communicate feedback to the student prior to the last day of classes. [[Writing may begin prior to this date in the semester, but if students commence writing after this date, their responses will not be evaluated by faculty during that same semester.]]
  • You may consult written materials relevant to the topic(s) but you may not consult live sources to inform your response.
  • You must draft your response independently.
  • You must turn in a hard copy and electronic copy of your response no later than 4:00p.m. on the final day of writing to the Program of Studies Chair/Comprehensive Exam Committee support staff. The Chair (or Chair’s designee) will distribute copies to committee members.
  • You may elect to write your response over winter or summer break if the committee members agree to the timeline and the Chair agrees to convey the question to you during that time. Registration is not required if you write over a break period. If you complete your written response outside the start and end dates of classes during the fall and spring semesters, it will not be distributed to the faculty until the first day of classes in the following semester. If you complete your written response during breaks between academic-year semesters, you will receive notification of your results within 2 weeks from the first day of classes.

Exam Evaluation

You will receive the Program of Studies/Comprehensive Exam Committee members’ evaluation in writing no later than 3 weeks following your submission.

You may conduct your Oral Defense of your written response (the first doctoral oral) during the semester in which you wrote your response.