Comprehensive Exam

When course work has been completed, the student in good academic standing will complete a written comprehensive exam that requires an oral defense. Generally, doctoral students take the comprehensive exam at the end of the sixth or beginning of the seventh semester of their program. At least five months must elapse between the successful completion of the comprehensive exam and the final dissertation.


The comprehensive examination is a culmination of doctoral work. The exam should provide the student an opportunity to develop a clear framework for his or her dissertation. It is major step in developing the dissertation proposal and ultimately the dissertation. A dissertation committee selected by the graduate student in accordance with the guidelines specified in this Handbook, which reflect the guidelines of KU’s Office of Graduate Studies, will develop the comprehensive exam. After successful defense of the comprehensive exam, the student's program of work, dissertation committee and dissertation topic are submitted to the School’s Graduate Studies Office.

Examination/Dissertation Committee

Again, a student's examination/dissertation committee must consist of at least five members. The committee chair must be a tenured, graduate faculty member of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications. The other four members can be a blend of tenured or tenure-track faculty from inside and outside the School, but a majority of committee members must be tenured or tenure-track faculty within the School of Journalism and Mass Communications. Each committee must include a Graduate Studies Representative. The Graduate Studies Representative must be a member of KU’s graduate faculty who is authorized to serve on doctoral committees by a KU department or school other than the School of Journalism and Mass Communications. As long as these conditions are met, the committee may include more than five members. All committee members should be members of the KU’s graduate faculty authorized to serve on doctoral exams. Each member should represent an area of concentration approved in his/her program of work (theory, method, journalism and mass communications area of expertise, outside area of expertise). Only approved doctoral graduate faculty members can serve on the committee.

Exam Schedule

All written examinations must be completed within a two-week period. At least 10 business days must elapse between completion of the last written examination and the oral defense. Time elapsed should not exceed one month. Comprehensive exams are scheduled through the graduate adviser. The Exam: The comprehensive exam will include five sets of questions, one set provided by each of the five examination/dissertation committee members. In consultation with each committee member, the doctoral student will develop an extensive reading list of materials (10 to 20 readings) examining a comprehensive area. Each committee member will write his/her set of questions pertaining to the intellectual domain defined by the reading list. Sets of questions will not be shared with the doctoral student prior to the exam. The committee chair will review all questions and reading lists prior to the exam to assure sufficient depth and breadth in the questions. If any questions arise, the associate dean of graduate studies may be asked to weigh in on the scope and depth of the reading list.

The exam will be taken in five, four-hour sittings during a two-week period of time, using a computer and a room provided by the School of Journalism and Mass Communications. A student may come to an exam with one page of notes each day (12-point, Times New Roman, 1-inch margins, 1 side = 1 page), but otherwise no books, journals, electronic storage devices, phones, laptops, tablets, or other ancillary materials. Students are allowed to bring a pen or pencil, blank paper, a dictionary and/or thesaurus, and reasonable comfort items (drinks, snacks, sweatshirt, etc.).

Students can expect to write between 6-12 pages for each exam question. Citations of previous work are expected.

Exam Defense

Students must pass and orally defend all five of the written exams to their dissertation committee, and before they are allowed to go forward with the dissertation proposal. The dissertation committee can assign a result of “satisfactory,” “unsatisfactory” or “satisfactory with honors.” The Graduate School allows students to retake failed written questions. See the doctoral degree oral exam policy. Three months must elapse between the original exam and the retaking of the failed portion. Upon successful completion of the comprehensive exam, students are required to be continuously enrolled. The university requires a minimum enrollment of six credits in the fall, six credits in the spring (for GTA students). Students who do not have a GTA/GRA assignment must be enrolled in nine hours. ABD students enroll in JMC 999 Research to fulfill the continuous enrollment requirement. See the doctoral candidacy policy.

(Adopted Fall 2015)