CON Home Academics Student Resources Graduate PhD Comprehensive Exams

Comprehensive Exams

Comprehensive Examinations are written when all course work and research hours are complete. The course title for Comprehensive Examinations is Doctoral Synthesis – NGR7978. Decisions about members of the comprehensive exam committee, including who will be invited to chair the committee, are made in collaboration with the faculty advisor and submitted to the doctoral committee for approval by mid-semester prior to the comprehensive exam semester. The Doctoral Program Committee will review the proposed committee and topics and may tailor topics before approving them. Tailoring might be the result of combining concepts from more than one of the student’s proposed topics. The Doctoral Program Committee may also suggest additional or different members for the comprehensive exam committee.

 I.  Purpose of the PhD in Nursing Comprehensive Examination

The purpose of the PhD Comprehensive Examination in Nursing is to:

  • establish that the student has sufficient breadth of the knowledge in nursing and depth in a specific substantive area of nursing to be a scholar;
  • determine that the student can write a publishable manuscript on a topic related to substantive area; and
  • affirm readiness of the student to move forward to dissertation research proposal development

 II.  Exam Application Process and Chair/Committee Selection

Prior to initiating the examination, the student is expected to have completed:

  • research practicum
  • plan of study filed with Graduate College approval
  • all coursework in the Nursing PhD program excluding one cognate that may be taken concurrently during the semester of the Comprehensive Examination – students cannot register for comprehensive exam with incomplete grades
  • meeting with the comprehensive exam committee chair (at least two months prior to the beginning of the semester in which the exam is taken) to discuss faculty expectations for the exam and develop 3 topics for the written portion of the exam
  • submission of paperwork documenting comprehensive exam committee members, chair and proposed topics for the written component of the exam.
    • This paperwork must be approved by the PhD committee in the semester prior to enrolling for comprehensive exam credit (NGR 7978)

The student must register for a NGR 7978 Doctoral Synthesis, 3 credit hour course, with the Comprehensive Examination faculty chair during the semester in which the student intends to take the exam.  The appropriate form must be signed by the chair. 

III. Faculty

  • A minimum of two College of Nursing faculty members, one of which is a member of the discipline of nursing, is required for each comprehensive exam committee
  • No members are outside the College of Nursing.
  • Committee members must be College of Nursing faculty member, who are members of the graduate faculty with assistant, associate, or professor rank and tenured, tenure-earning, or emeritus status.
  • The Comprehensive Exam chair may or may not be the student’s planned dissertation chair.
  • The chair of the committee must be College of Nursing Faculty and need not be a member of the discipline of nursing: is a member of the graduate faculty with assistant, associate, or professor rank and tenured, tenure-earning, or emeritus status.

 IV. Doctoral Comprehensive Examination Content/Format/Administration/Evaluation


  • The exam process will contain both a written and an oral component.
  • The written component consists of a scholarly paper (publishable manuscript) that includes a synthesis of the literature related to the student’s substantive area. The topic for this scholarly paper will be determined by the PhD committee using the 3 topics proposed in the semester prior the exam.
  • The oral component of the examination will consist of an in-depth discussion with the student that includes content covered throughout their PhD program course work as well as content of the scholarly paper. 
    • Questions posed during the oral component of the examination will address the College of Nursing outcomes for PhD study, covering the student’s knowledge and understanding of theory, research methodology and methods related to the proposed area of study. Students should review the program outcomes and be prepared to address a broad range of questions in relation to their course work.
  • A suggested timeline is described below:

Timeline for Completing the Comprehensive Examination in the PhD Program


Fall Registration

Spring Registration

Summer Registration

Student files proposed questions with PhD Coordinator

Middle of previous spring semester

Middle of previous fall semester

Middle of previous spring semester

Approved Questions distributed

1st day of fall semester

1st day of spring semester

One week prior to the start of summer semester

First draft due to Committee

1st week in October

Third week in February


Committee meets with students to give comments

3rd or 4th week in October


1st week in July

Final version due to Committee

2nd week in November

1st week in April

Last week in July



  1. During the Comprehensive Examination semester, the student may meet with the Comprehensive Exam faculty chair regarding the topic, process of completing the examination including the timeline. The student may also meet with the committee to review an outline and draft of the scholarly paper. 
  2. Outside editorial assistance is permitted for the written component.
  3. During the oral component of the examination, the student will respond to questions without assistance of written, technological or other resources.
  4. The oral examination must be held prior to the last class day of the semester in which the student is enrolled.


Students are evaluated on the quality of the scholarly paper and ability to verbally articulate cogent responses to questions presented by the committee.  These responses must demonstrate the student’s ability to argue for and defend their knowledge and to generate logical conclusions. The oral comprehensive exam rubric will be completed by the committee and filed in the student file.

Similar criteria are used to evaluate the written and oral examinations.  The student’s written materials and verbal responses to questions reflect a broad and in-depth knowledge of theoretical perspectives and research methods relevant to the student’s substantive area of research. 

V.  Committee Recommendations to the PhD Committee

Based on the committee members’ expert judgments of the content areas and the student’s performance on both components of the exam, a recommendation will be made to the PhD Committee. If members disagree, an outside reader will be sought by the Director of the PhD program to determine whether the paper is satisfactory or unsatisfactory. The recommendation to the PhD Committee will be one of the following:

  1. Satisfactory, eligible to apply for admission to candidacy with no conditions.
  2. Incomplete, satisfactory progress, eligible to apply for admission to candidacy and enroll in NGR 7979 despite specific conditions to be met.
  3. Unsatisfactory, eligible for re-examination within one year or less.
  4. Unsatisfactory re-examination, dismiss from the graduate program.


Students who receive a grade of incomplete must complete NGR 7978 within one additional semester. If this condition is not met, the incomplete grade will be changed to unsatisfactory and the student will be unable to progress beyond NGR 7979 without retaking, and successfully completing NGR 7978.

Documentation of Comprehensive Exam Results:  The committee’s majority decision about the exam is documented on the appropriate form.  The student is responsible for completing the form and obtaining signatures of faculty who have agreed to be members of the dissertation committee.  The student should also bring a completed Admission to Candidacy for the Doctoral Degree (Graduate College Form 8) and a Dissertation Committee Form to the comprehensive examination. Signed and completed forms are to be submitted to the Coordinator of the PhD program as soon as possible but prior to registering for NGR 7980 (Dissertation).