Department of Middle Eastern Studies
Department of Middle Eastern Studies

Comprehensive Exams

Comprehensive exams are typically taken between the third and fourth years of the doctoral program (not including the MA portion, if applicable). These exams test a student’s analytical and research skills through the completion of a series of essays, followed by an oral defense.


The comprehensive exams serve to:

  1. Ascertain whether students possess a breadth of knowledge outside the dissertation specialization and at the level expected of a new assistant professor;
  2. Assess whether students have sufficient general knowledge of a chosen scholarly field to develop a prospectus and complete the dissertation;
  3. Evaluate whether students have the breadth and depth of knowledge to participate in professional discussions in Middle Eastern studies and in their major field;
  4. Prepare students for academic job interviews.


Prior to taking the comprehensive exams, the student must:

  1. Complete all coursework requirements;
  2. Pass all language exams, including a) the research language reading exam, and; b) the major field language exam;
  3. Establish an approved 3-person exam committee representing 3 exam fields;
  4. Prepare an abstract outlining a preliminary idea for a dissertation project.


3-8 months before taking the comprehensive exams (i.e., at the beginning of the comps prep course), the student will collect preliminary reading lists from each committee member. The student will then review this list with the examiners to establish a final list tailored to the student’s interests and goals.

This list will serve as the basis of the 3-part comprehensive exam.


The exam committee typically consists 3 faculty members, the majority of which (at least 2) must be from the Department's Graduate Studies Committee (tenured or tenure-track faculty). The committee and exam fields are chosen in consultation with the student’s supervisor and are subject to the approval of the Graduate Adviser. The student will document the committee and exam fields and seek approval by completing the Comprehensive Exam Request form, which is submitted to the Lisa Parisi, the Graduate Program Coordinator.

Written Exam

The take-home written exams begin on a predetermined date, scheduled in consultation with the exam committee. The student then has one month to prepare the 3 papers in response to each prompt submitted by the committee. The Graduate Coordinator will collect the 3 questions to send to the student. One month later the student will submit the 3 response papers to the Graduate Coordinator, who will distribute them to the comps committee.

Oral Exam

An oral examination is held in which the student defends before his/her committee the research, analyses, and arguments presented in the response papers. The oral exam also includes a discussion of the student’s future professional development. The student is expected to coordinate and schedule the oral exam with the 3-person comps committee and all members should be physically present. If a professor from this core committee is unavailable in person, he/she may electronically attend the exam. The oral examination typically is held 2-3 weeks after the submission of the completed written exams.


The committee will assign a grade of pass, fail, or pass with conditions. Any conditions imposed must be met before the student advances to candidacy.

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