University of Vermont

College of Education and Social Sciences

Doctoral Programs in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

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Comprehensive Examination Objectives & Procedures: Ph.D. in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies

In order to assess students' scholarship and critical thinking, a comprehensive examination is required by the end of a student’s course of study (typically the third year). Successful completion of the comprehensive examination is a program requirement. The examination consists of a critical, in-depth review/empirical article on a topic to be agreed upon by the student, his/her mentor, and one additional faculty reader, with these individuals approving an abstract of the paper in advance The review/empirical article must demonstrate comprehensive empirical and theoretical mastery of the agreed-upon topic, including relevant knowledge on which the specific research area is based. If the article is not specifically on an applied topic, it should at least discuss relevant applications associated with the topic. The draft article must be the student’s original writing and conceptualization; however, the student’s committee members may provide editorial suggestions for improvement. If the article was developed out of a shared research project, it may not be co-authored for the purpose of the comprehensive exam. In these cases it is understood that the article draft may later be revised and become a co-authored piece before being submitted to a journal. The article submitted for the comprehensive exam should be the student’s original writing and conceptualization and should be in the form of and approaching the quality necessary to be submitted for publication in an appropriate peer reviewed journal.

Once the student’s advisor and one other faculty member deem the article original and ready for review, the student will schedule a research colloquium on the topic of the paper for the CESS community. The faculty examiners will, by consensus, assign a grade of Fail, Conditional Pass, or Pass for the comprehensive examination. The article may later be incorporated into the student’s doctoral dissertation if deemed appropriate by the student’s dissertation committee.

Objectives of Comprehensive Examination

The objectives of the written and oral comprehensive examinations will be for the student to demonstrate:

  • An understanding of educational leadership and policy studies research relevant to the topic of the paper.
  • An ability to advance theory and research related to educational and social practice.
  • Proficiency with using research methodology and/or a conceptual framework to shape research.
  • Professional written and oral communication skills in the dissemination of research.
  • An ability to design and conduct original research/inquiry that contributes to understanding problems and issues in educational and community-based settings.
  • Practical knowledge of the Ethical Principles of the American Psychological Association and the American Educational Research Association.


Eligibility for the Written and Oral Comprehensive Examination is based upon meeting the following criteria:

  1. Satisfactory completion (no incompletes) of all course work (or in the final semester of coursework) with the exception of the EDLP 449: Dissertation Writing Seminar.
  2. A grade point average of 3.0 in graduate course work with no grades below a 3.0 (B) in core coursework and the research core.
  3. Appointment of a studies committee including three CESS faculty.
  4. An approved plan of study.
  5. Approval of the advisor and program coordinator.

Upon meeting the eligibility criteria students should submit the Permission to Take Written Comprehensive Examination form to

Written Examination

Each student is required to complete ONE major journal article draft that is a theoretical or empirical, data-based project, either quantitative or qualitative research. The student will coordinate the process with his or her advisor who will have final approval over the topic of the paper. The project will be the student’s own effort, under the supervision of the advisor and other committee members, when appropriate. Supervising faculty may be involved to the extent they would be in a dissertation. APA format is required unless the target journal requires a different format (using a format other than APA will require advisor approval). Submit one copy of each paper to the members of your committee that will be reading your papers and one copy of each to for your file. This should be done three weeks in advance of your oral defense. If any member has substantive concerns about the paper, the oral defense may be cancelled.

Oral Presentation

The purpose of the Comprehensive Oral Examination is to assess the doctoral student’s ability to orally communicate with other professionals about their research, and the fulfillment of other objectives of the comprehensive examination and the appropriate professional standards.

Upon satisfactory completion of a journal article draft, it is the responsibility of the student to schedule the Comprehensive Oral Examination with his or her doctoral research committee in accordance with the policies and procedures of the Graduate School including:

  • Complete the Permission Form to Take the Comprehensive Examination.
  • Work with your advisor and the rest of your committee to find a one and half-hour meeting time and location (Contact to schedule this room). The time and location of your oral will be distributed across CESS including a brief bio and an abstract of your topic.
  • Send a copy of your written papers to each of your committee members three weeks in advance of the defense date if they do not already have them.
  • Before the oral, meet with your advisor to review the expectations for this meeting.
  • Prepare a 15-20 minute presentation of your paper for a public audience and prepare to respond to questions about your paper (see presentation tips on the AERA website).

Colloquium Format

  • In 15-20 minutes, present the contents of your paper as if you were at a professional conference such as AERA.
  • Once the presentation is over, the audience will be invited to ask questions.
  • After about 20-25 minutes of questions and dialogue with the audience, audience members will be thanked for their attendance and asked to leave.
  • Committee members will then ask specific questions pertaining to the paper and/or presentation.
  • When all questions have been answered, the student will be asked to leave so the committee can make a final determination about whether the student has passed the comprehensive examination.
  • The student will then be invited back to hear the committee’s decision


All three members of the doctoral studies committee will read the written components of the comprehensive examination. Each committee member will also be expected to attend the oral presentation (the inclusion of the outside chair is optional).

The comprehensive examination is evaluated on a pass/fail basis with the results of the examination forwarded to the Graduate School. To pass, the student’s committee must be in unanimous agreement. In the event of failure, one re-take of the examination is permitted. The project will be evaluated according to the objectives of the comprehensive examination and the appropriate professional standards. The project will be evaluated as if it was submitted and reviewed in the appropriate professional journal. Each committee member will assess the written and oral components of the comprehensive examination via a comprehensive examination rubric. The committee will attend to the projects’ written form (including proper grammar, punctuation, spelling, and form, theoretical/conceptual rationale, literature review, methodological integrity, formatting, significance, methodology (if applicable), results/findings, discussion and conclusion) and oral (colloquium presentation and defense). Guidelines used by faculty to evaluate the project and provide written feedback can be viewed here:

Documents comprising the comprehensive examination and written feedback from the committee concerning the student’s examination will be placed in the student’s file maintained by EDLP program.

Comprehensive Examinations are evaluated as:

  • pass
  • conditional pass (it becomes a pass when stated conditions are met)
  • fail (only one retake is permitted)

Last modified February 03 2013 03:12 PM

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