Department of Asian Studies
Department of Asian Studies



In consultation with their doctoral supervisor, students will take exams in three or four areas relating to their research, coursework, and/or professional plans. Students and supervisors will develop a schedule for taking comprehensive examinations at or near the time they have completed their coursework requirements. This schedule should be communicated to the Graduate Coordinator and Graduate Adviser. 

An exam committee consists of either three or four other examiners, one for each exam, including the chair.  The chair should be the student’s dissertation supervisor and should coordinate the committee as needed.  Committee members, also known as examiners, should have expertise on their exam topic. Most examiners ask students to create the initial exam list as part of the process (i.e., learning how to learn a field). Other examiners provide basic lists covering the topic to students and work with them to customize that list to the student’s interests. In either case, the examiners and student should agree on a final exam list well in advance of the exam date, ideally three months or so. Changes to the list at that point are permissible by mutual consent of the student and examiner. Typically, such lists consist of 15-20 book-length works and 20-30 article-length studies on the exam topic, but examiners may set a longer or shorter list. 

The Comprehensive Examinations usually consist of written essays with citations and bibliography, responding to the three or four exam questions.  The committee may ask for other types of response or exam formats at the discretion of the chair.  In consultation with the examiners for each list, the chair/supervisor will fix the number of questions (sometimes only one question is given on a single exam; sometimes a choice of two, with other arrangements possible) based on the student’s needs, background, and plans. Typically, a student is given between eight and thirty-six hours per exam (with correspondingly different expectations), though other arrangements may be made between exam committees and students. 

The exam committee will determine the timing and distribution of the questions.  One common choice is to space the three to four exams out over a period of one to two weeks.  Another is to spread them out over a longer period of time, such as a semester or the span between the end of one semester and the beginning of the next.  We strongly prefer that students should complete their exams within as compact a timeframe as possible, and in any case within a maximum of fifteen weeks of semester time, excluding summer and academic breaks (exceptions may be made in unusual circumstances).  Exemplary exam responses are available for student consultation with the Graduate Coordinator. 

Approximately two weeks after completion of the last exam question, the committee will conduct an oral defense of all the exams. At the defense, students respond to questions about their written answers and related topics. The examiner for each exam will take the lead on their exam, though all examiners are expected to read all the exams and may ask questions relating to any exam.  A typical defense lasts from one to two hours.