Comprehensive Examinations

The PhD program requires that students take two comprehensive examinations in their chosen major fields of sociology.

We offer comprehensive exams in the following core areas of department specialization: Sociology of Crime and Law; Culture; Gender; Health & Mental Health; Immigration, Ethnicity & Race; Social Networks; Political Sociology; Work, Stratification and Markets; Sociological Theory; Qualitative Methods; and Quantitative Methods.

We recommend that students take at least two courses in the area prior to taking the comp exam in that area. Most courses are offered at least every other year in all core areas; yearly in theory and methods.

In addition to the examinations offered in core areas, students may request to take a comprehensive exam in the following areas of expertise: Aging & Life Course; Environmental Sociology; Family; Social Policy; and Urban Sociology. Students may file a request with the Grad Office to take an exam in one of these areas of expertise at least six months ahead of time; if the Associate Grad chair is able to form a faculty comp committee in that area, s/he will approve the request. We will not offer comprehensive examinations in other areas.


Comprehensive Exams are scheduled or planned for:

August 23 – 27, 2021

February 2022


We advise students to plan to take their first comprehensive exam at the end of year one and their second comprehensive exam by the end of the second year, after having taken coursework related to the field being tested. Students have the option of sitting the exams in February or in August. The exam is offered as a 5 day take-home exam. Students must notify the Graduate Office of intent to take the comprehensive examination via email to the Graduate Program Assistant by October 15 for February exam or April 15 for August exam.  The completed COMP Request Form  is due to the Graduate Office after the group meeting occurs but no later than November 30 for the February exam or May 31 for the August exam.

Area Committees and Reading Lists

***Previous COMP Committees, Reading Lists, and COMP Exams Link

AreaExam DateChairMemberMember
Sociology of Crime and Law
Reading List
August 2021LiuGoodmanMaurutto
February 2022LiuGoodmanMaurutto
Reading List
August 2021KortewegJohnsonSalem
February 2022KortewegJohnsonSalem
Health and Mental Health
Reading List
August 2021MageeSchaferSpence
February 2022MageeSchaferSpence
Immigration, Ethnicity and Race
Reading List
August 2021Farah SchwartzmanAdeseElcioglu
February 2022Farah SchwartzmanAdeseElcioglu
Networks and Community
Reading List
August 2021EricksonSchaferSmith
February 2022EricksonSchaferSmith
Political Sociology
Reading List
August 2021VeugelersHoffmanY. Lee
February 2022VeugelersHoffmanY. Lee
Sociology of Culture
Reading List
August 2021TBDTBDTBD
February 2022TBDTBDTBD
Work, Stratification and Markets
Reading List
August 2021CranfordDinovitzerGrigoryeva
February 2022CranfordDinovitzerGrigoryeva
Qualitative Methods
Reading List
August 2021HermerElciogluFields
February 2022HermerElciogluFields
Quantitative Methods
Reading List
August 2021FosseAlexanderDokshin
February 2022FosseAlexanderDokshin
Sociological Theory
Reading List
August 2021SchneiderhanCaronPlys
February 2022SchneiderhanCaronPlys

In recent years, because students have requested it, we have also offered comprehensive exams in Life Course and Aging (2017 Reading List ), Environmental Sociology (2020 Reading List), Sociology of Families (2021 Reading List), Social Policy (2019 Reading List), and Urban Sociology (2016 Reading List).

Comprehensive Examination Instructions for Students

The following instructions are mailed out to exam takers 2 weeks prior to exam start and at 9am on day of exam:

I will e-mail your questions to you at 9am on Monday, [date of exam start]. If you do not receive your exam by 9:15 am, contact the Graduate Office immediately. These instructions will be included:

  1. Be sure to send a quick reply to let the Graduate Office know you received the questions, and indicate in your email that you read and understand these instructions, as well as the University’s policy on Academic Integrity and the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters (links below).
  2. Any medical, mental health and/or accessibility issues must be discussed with the Graduate Office and/or the appropriate University Office (e.g. Accessibility Office) at least six weeks prior to the exam. Any accommodations suggested by those offices must be in place before the exam begins.
  3. Do NOT email the comp exam committee directly for any reason during or after the exam. When your exam is complete, email the answers to the Graduate Office at
  4. Answers must be submitted in Word format no later than 5:00 PM EST on Friday, [date of exam end]. Answers will not be accepted after this time. Your exam will be marked as a fail in these cases.
  5. You are required to answer THREE (3) QUESTIONS (ONE QUESTION FROM EACH OF PARTS A, B & C).  Each answer should be 10-12 pages (12-point Times New Roman font, standard margins, and double-spaced) in length. The complete exam should not total more than 36 pages in length (12-point Times New Roman font, standard margins, and double-spaced), not including references. THE COMMITTEE WILL NOT READ PAST THE 36TH PAGE.
  6. If you have a clarification or other question that arises once the exam has been sent to you, direct your question to the graduate office, with a CC to the associate graduate chair (Prof. Markus Schafer,
  7. If, for any reason, you feel you cannot complete the exam on time, do not quit writing. You must turn in as much writing as you possibly can. You will be graded and given comments on what you complete even if it is only an outline of what you planned to write. Let the Graduate Office know immediately if this situation occurs and we will send you further instructions. If you do not turn in any writing or you do not notify the Graduate Office of problems at the time they occur, the exam will be marked as a fail.
  8. No one other than you may read, edit or comment on your exam prior to submission to the comp committee and Graduate Office. It is your responsibility to read and be aware of the University’s Academic Integrity resources which can be found here, and specifically the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters found here
  9. Committees have three weeks to submit your grade to the Graduate Office.
  10. Once the grade is submitted, you will be notified of your results by the Graduate Office.

Comprehensive Examination Policy

updated October 2017

Download the Comprehensive Examination Policy as a pdf.


Goals and Principles of the Comprehensive examinations:

  • a Ph.D. comprehensive is understood to be an examination of broad expertise in an area, not specific background for a research agenda.
  • a Ph.D. comprehensive implies to the examining committee a responsibility for exposure to a broad spectrum of materials in an area, to facilitate both the generality of research conducted in that area and preparation for future teaching.
  • A Ph.D. comprehensive is one way for students to demonstrate their expertise in a particular subfield or area, as they seek academic and non-academic careers.

General Requirements for Students

Ph.D. students must complete two comprehensive exams in two different areas. The Sociology department’s comprehensive exam areas are outlined below. Students are encouraged to complete one exam at the end of their first year of the Ph.D. (August) and one exam by the end of their second year (August). Students may choose to do either a five-day take home exam or a four-hour sit down exam. Students must answer three questions for each examination.

The designated areas are required to offer a core course in their area at least once every two years, as set out by the 2007 policy when the graduate curriculum was updated. This allows Ph.D. students to have regular access to courses that can help them prepare for their comprehensive exams. Students are strongly encouraged to take their exam in the term following completion of a core course and other courses in that area.

Areas of Comprehensive Exams

  • Comprehensives will be offered in the following core areas of department specialization, Sociology of Crime and Law; Culture; Gender; Health & Mental Health; Immigration, Ethnicity & Race; Networks & Community; Political Sociology; Work, Stratification and Markets; plus Sociological Theory; Qualitative Methods and Quantitative Methods.
  • Core courses will be offered at least every other year in all core areas; yearly in theory and methods. It is recommended that students take at least two courses in the area prior to taking the comp exam in that area.
  • Students may request to take a comprehensive exam in the following areas of expertise: Aging & Life Course; Environmental Sociology; Family; Social Policy; and Urban Sociology. Students may file a request with the Grad Office to take an exam in one of these areas of expertise at least six months ahead of time; if the Associate Grad chair is able to form a faculty comp committee in that area, s/he will approve the request.
  • Areas of comprehensive exams may change over time. Requests to supplement or change the currently offered areas must come from a group of at least five faculty in a developing area. These requests will be considered by the Graduate Program Committee and brought to the Faculty for approval.
  • No comprehensives in other areas will be offered by the department.

Appointment of Comprehensive Exam Committees

  • Within each comprehensive exam core area, the area faculty members suggest rotations of faculty members to serve as Area head (1 faculty member) and as the other members of the area comp committee (2 faculty members); normally each member serves a two-year term. The Associate Graduate Chair in consultation with the Chair of the Graduate Department appoint the standing committee based on these nominations. It is assumed that there will be rotation of faculty. For areas in which there is a core or required course, the faculty member teaching a core or required course in the area in the past two years will normally be one of the faculty on the committee.
  • The Graduate Office will post the names of Comprehensive Exam committee members on the website.
  • If a committee member cannot fulfill her/his complete term due to an unplanned research or other leave that comes up during their term, the committee member must notify the Area head and the Associate Graduate Chair as soon as possible. A new committee member will be appointed to complete remaining time of the term. The Associate Graduate Chair will make the appointment in consultation with the faculty in the area and with the approval of the Chair of the Graduate Department.

Responsibilities of Area Comprehensive Exam Committees

  • The Area Head is responsible for three key procedures: 1) ensuring the area updates its reading list at least every other year, by February 1 for use in the following academic year. 2) setting the date for the exam committee to meet with all students taking the exam at least once before students take their exam (see below); and 3) ensuring the exam committee marks the exams; discusses the exam, and provides the decision and comments to the Graduate Office in the designated time frame (see below).
  • The area committee of three faculty will write the examination questions and submit them to the Graduate Office at least one week prior to the examination date (if there are students taking the exam in their area during that sitting).
  • In terms of structure of the examination questions, it is recommended that there be three sections: A, B, C. Each section should have two questions from which the student will choose one to answer.
  • Comprehensive exam committee members are responsible for making themselves available to meet with and for maintaining contact with students taking comprehensives for the upcoming sitting. Committees must be available to meet as a whole with students taking the examination at least once prior to the exam (normally a meeting will be set by the Area Head in early May for the August exam and in early November for the February exam).
  • Faculty may provide assessments of students’ practice exams if they wish, but they are not required to do so. Students who ask faculty to do so should realize that the responses to a practice exam would not necessarily be equivalent to responses received when an entire committee is deliberating.

Reading Lists

  • Area reading lists are developed by all faculty in each area, not just by exam committee members. The lists should be updated at least every two years and sent to the Graduate office by the Area Head by February 1 for use the following academic year. Areas may solicit student input for updating the list as well.
  • Updated reading lists will be submitted to the Grad Office/Graduate Program committee for approval.
  • Reading lists must be organized according to modules for subfield areas with books, chapters or articles related to that topic listed underneath. Reading lists are not to be an alphabetical ordered list of books. There will be core readings for each module; some areas also include supplemental readings (see below). Supplemental reading lists for each module contain 3-4 readings.
  • There will be a minimum of 150 and a maximum of 200 readings in each list, in article units. A book will count as five articles if it involves over 200 pages of assigned reading, as three articles if between 100-200 pages of assigned reading, and one article if less than 100 pages of assigned reading. Chapters and articles are considered equal. Any reading list with at least 20 books may have an upper limit of 240 readings.
  • Students will read all of the core readings in each module. For those area comps that use supplemental readings, students must choose two modules where they will complete the supplemental readings. The core readings plus two modules of supplemental readings constitute the entire reading the student completes. Students should not expect a question based solely on their supplemental readings. Rather these readings will add to their knowledge of specific subareas.
  • Students wishing to take a comprehensive in the following academic year may apply to the standing committee in January, to suggest changes and additions to the current reading list. Any changes incorporated to the list being updated by the area group will apply to all students taking that area comprehensive the following academic year. It is assumed that these suggestions speak to new directions in the area in general, or missing components of the current reading list.
  • Reading lists will be posted on the Sociology Departmental Website and students will access the reading lists in this way.

Dates and Procedures for taking Comprehensive Exams

  • There will be two dates each year on which comprehensives are held: one date will be set in late August, and one in early February. Committees may not alter the dates of these exams.
  • Students must notify the Graduate Office and the Area head by April 15 for the August exam and October 15 for the February exam, that they will be taking the exam and obtain signatures from the committee members. Students must sign that they understand the general instructions provided about the upcoming exam, including being responsible for knowing and understanding academic integrity guidelines.
  • Committees should meet as a group of faculty and students in early May for the August exam and in early November for the February exam, to provide instruction and answer questions about the upcoming exam. Faculty should also be available for consultation post meeting.

Marking the Comprehensive Exam

  • Exams will be graded according to the current system as either a “pass” or “fail”.
  • Exams will be anonymized before they are sent to committee members.
  • Comprehensive exam committees must submit their assessment of the exam to the Graduate Office within three weeks of the date of the exam. The Area head/chair of each exam committee is responsible for ensuring this takes place. Students will receive results in approximately four weeks from turning in the exam.
  • Before handing in assessments to the Graduate Office, committee members should discuss their individual assessments. The chair of the comprehensive exam committee will compile or write a summary of the comments to be sent to the student through the Graduate Office. These comments should be linked to individual committee members’ names, in case students want to follow up and discuss ideas further.
  • If a student fails the first take of the exam, the student may take that area exam a second time. The student will take the exam in the same area, normally at the next sitting of the exam. It must be taken within one year of the first attempt.
  • If the student fails the exam the second time, current rules and regulations apply, including the student’s right to appeal to the Standing Committee overseeing appeals and the department’s right to recommend to SGS that the student no longer be eligible to continue in the Ph.D. program.