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PhD/PsyD Comprehensive Exams

Discussion in 'Psychology [Psy.D. / Ph.D.]' started by wellthen45, Aug 16, 2017.

  1. wellthen45


    Aug 16, 2017
    Does your program have comprehensive exams and what are they like?

    I've recently spoken with students at other schools who seem to have exams that are structured much better than in my PhD program.

    Ours are at the end of Year 4. They are two days of 8 hours a day. We get 2 mandatory questions each day and then must choose 6 out of 10 others to answer. It's a total of 4 mandatory and 12 self selected questions. There's no reading list. We are only told the date the exam will be held and that the questions can be on anything in our field. We must know names of articles, names of authors and dates of publication.

    Tell me about yours.
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  3. WisNeuro

    WisNeuro Board Certified Neuropsychologist Psychologist 7+ Year Member

    Feb 15, 2009
    Similar, just one, eight hour day though, some mandatory questions, some we got a choice. We did have a "reading list" but it was about 200 articles and 80 textbooks long, pretty much just be ready to answer and cite just about anything that is relevant to our practice and research.

    I'm all for difficult comp exams. Too many people get off way too easy.
    sabine_psyd likes this.
  4. MamaPhD

    MamaPhD Psychologist, Academic Medical Center Psychologist 7+ Year Member

    Aug 2, 2010
    My program did away with comp exams, so I never had to bother with it. Instead we were required to give case presentations (with slides, data, video clips and Q&A afterward) and research presentations (usually but not always a master's thesis project) to the full department.
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2017
  5. singasongofjoy

    singasongofjoy Psychologist 2+ Year Member

    Dec 4, 2014
    Ours was based on an individual case, in which we explained to the client the process to allow them to choose whether or not to consent-- fee is waived; feedback session is given by someone other than the student who does the assessment (typically the student's adviser, who supervises the case by watch tapes or watch sessions over the TV, reviewing the scores/report, edit as they see fit including changing diagnoses that the student proposed if necessary, and and ultimately decide on the diagnosis and provide/oversee the feedback session to the parents). So the student does the whole assessment from beginning to end with no input from the adviser, writes up the report and recs, sends the report to the adviser who then edits as necessary and gives feedback session. The student gets no input on the case and has to put together a document that talks about the research related to the differential / given diagnoses, choices of assessment instruments, and recs. Then your committee (usually your thesis or probable dissertation committee) convenes. You present the case, they grill you on anything remotely related so you do a lot of reading/studying to prep for it. I definitely prefer that to having to spend a day or two writing nonstop and having to cite references from memory.
  6. calimich

    calimich Assistant Professor Psychologist Faculty 2+ Year Member

    Nov 22, 2013
    Ours came in two waves: knowledge comps and practice comps (also called "work sample" in our program).

    For knowledge comps we were given 4 individually tailored questions -- 1 about research & statistics, 1 about history & values of counseling psych, and 2 more topics chosen from a list of a dozen or so options. IIRC, mine were multiculturalism and consultation. Our chairs wrote questions, purportedly aimed somewhat toward our dissertations, and we had 21 days to answer each in 2000 words or less. So, essentially 4 8-page papers in 3 weeks. The committee reviewed the papers and issued either a pass, revise, or fail. I think students got 2 weeks for revisions.

    For work sample we chose practice, teaching, or supervision and showed tapes of us demonstrating certain skills and answered questions/reflected about our methods. There was a smaller written component to the work sample.

    I enjoyed the process of writing in-depth answers to questions I cared about and think it was a nice stepping stone to preparing a dissertation proposal and eventually the dissertation. Others disagreed and would have rather gotten it all over in a day or two.
  7. G Costanza

    G Costanza Psychologist - UCC 5+ Year Member

    Jun 23, 2011
    Sounds like an excellent blend of knowledge and application.
  8. Kadhir

    Kadhir 2+ Year Member

    Nov 13, 2015
    We were given all possible questions the first day of graduate school (2 from each of 5 categories, then a mandatory question). When it came time to write, we were given 1 of those questions from each category and then of course the mandatory question. There was an option of doing an 8-hr day or two 4-hr days (most chose the latter). Hour for each question, plus 2 hrs total editing time.
  9. foreverbull

    foreverbull 2+ Year Member

    Sep 8, 2015
    2 days, 4 hours each day.

    1 day = we are given a research study and we have to discuss design and statistical issues, validity, reliability, etc. Not given the study in advance, just right then. Critically review the study.

    1 day = given a case vignette in the moment and we approach it from one theory of choice in terms of conceptualization, assessment, and intervention, as well as any cultural considerations.

    No reading materials provided, you just have to study research design issues thoroughly and memorize your theory of choice and how to conceptualize with it.
  10. MCParent

    MCParent Faculty Bronze Donor Classifieds Approved 5+ Year Member

    Jan 10, 2012
    My comps were:

    2 days, 8 hrs each.
    Day 1:
    2 hr ethics (given case, summarize ethical approach)
    2 hr research critique (they usually picked a pretty weak article so this was not very hard)
    4 hr theoretical orientation summary

    No net access on Day 1. Had to know everything off the top of your head.

    Day 2:
    Thematic question (pick one of two) asking to summarize the state of an area in the field. Net access allowed.

    I'm fine with hard comps. I tell students who complain to go talk to a History or English major. One of the medieval reqs I'm fine with keeping in graduate education.
    Therapist4Chnge likes this.
  11. SLB-CO

    SLB-CO 2+ Year Member

    Nov 10, 2015
    For clinical PhD candidacy -

    Two weeks in the summer after your 2nd year in the program, given long lists of articles/books to read. Needed to know the authors and years to cite, but could prep one page of crib notes per question. Essays were usually 10-12 pages, if I remember correctly, but there wasn't any page limit. You were limited by time.

    First week in person. Two in-class days with a 1-day break in between testing days. Were given two topics per day with 3 hours to respond to each question, with a break between questions. For each topic were given two questions and we could choose which to respond to.
    In-class topics: Biopsychosocial bases of behavior, ethics, clinical theory, clinical applied

    Second week take-home.
    Take-home topics: History & systems (choice of two questions), research methods (essentially were asked to peer review an article).

    You could fail one topic and retake it the following year, but if you struggled with more than one, you had to retake the full exam the following year. You weren't necessarily kicked out if you didn't pass, but folks that didn't pass on the 1st round often dropped out.

    The PhD program I'm now faculty in has a portfolio students build over time for their comps, which seems more useful to me. That said, as painful as mine seemed at the time, my comps really did help me to solidify and integrate a breadth of knowledge across the field (particularly biopsychosocial bases of behavior) and have most of the seminal pieces memorized.
  12. NeuroWise

    NeuroWise 2+ Year Member

    Dec 1, 2015
    My program offers two options: the traditional 2-day exam with several questions to answer each day and a writing option where you propose a meta-analysis or other systematic review to your doctoral committee and then carry it out independently from there on. The written option is due the second day of the traditional comps. The meta is then scored by the doctoral committee and a fourth reader as if it is a manuscript submitted for publication. It's a really cool option for the research heavy folks as they then submit the meta (assuming they pass) to a real journal.
  13. briarcliff

    briarcliff 5+ Year Member

    Aug 26, 2011
    we similarly have a qualifying paper as opposed to a comp exam -- it's typically an extensive literature review written entirely independently over a set period of weeks. it's usually closely related to students' dissertation topic and sets the stage for then writing the dissertation proposal after.

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  14. futureapppsy2

    futureapppsy2 Assistant professor Moderator Gold Donor Classifieds Approved 7+ Year Member

    Dec 25, 2008
    Can I hold the unpopular opinion that having students memorize references beyond first author/year is a useless waste of everyone's time that bears no resemblance to anything you will ever do while doing actual research?
  15. Marissa4usa

    Marissa4usa 10+ Year Member

    Sep 5, 2007
    My program phased out any written exams. Instead, we have three months to write a comprehensive review of any research topic that interests us. I wanted to be as efficient as possible, and decided on my dissertation topic before I even proposed my comps paper to my comps committee. I ended up using my comps paper (minus a few irrelevant things that one comps committee member had wanted me to add) as my dissertation introduction, and was able to propose just a couple of months after passing comps.
    briarcliff likes this.
  16. Doctor Eliza

    Doctor Eliza Psychologist 7+ Year Member

    Jul 30, 2010
    We had to design three projects. I published two papers and taught a class. It was easier in some ways, but more time consuming. There also was a lot of variability in comps depending in your committee.
    Therapist4Chnge likes this.
  17. mlwg1

    mlwg1 7+ Year Member

    Sep 24, 2008
    Ours was similar, except that we would present the paper to our doctoral committee in the same style as a dissertation defense. I know of only one person who took the 2-day exam option out of my six years of grad school. As students we preferred spending our time on material germane to our research interests, and it was helpful to produce a paper that could be submitted for publication.
  18. AcronymAllergy

    AcronymAllergy Neuropsychologist Moderator Psychologist Gold Donor Classifieds Approved 7+ Year Member

    Jan 7, 2010
    My program was similar to this. Not sure when the revamp occurred, but I believe it was previously similar to many of the other folks here (i.e., two days, eight or so hours each).

    The non-stop writing was generally reserved for individual classes.
  19. Justanothergrad

    Justanothergrad Counseling Psychologist Psychologist Faculty 2+ Year Member

    Mar 2, 2013
    That sounds similar to how we did it. I've always had a hard time buying that the thing which is helpful to psychology is a weakening of training requirements/standards.

    We did:
    2 days of written exams with no internet/no notes in a room by ourselves. We were told to "study all things related to the theory and practice of counseling psychology" and that questions could come from any direction on any topic. Broadly speaking, the topics were theory, research, practice, and one more. We would get half of the questions day one (about 5-6 hours were given to write, and we were expected to know multiple citations to support our cases) and then the second half day 2. The best study material we had was people who had written down past questions. It was a pain, but I left out feeling like I knew the field very well as the process.

    We also had a written section due at the time of the first exam. 30 page research proposal. Lots of people used it to move forward on their dissertation.

    Then we had oral comps. Those were a lot easier. We were given 3-4 questions/scenarios that would be talked about with a committee of 5 people for two hours. They were free to press us anywhere we wanted, but those were much more wide open and felt a lot less stressful.

    I don't know, I tend to cite people in conversation. I'm... not even kidding. I'm also not particularly cool. I accept this.

    One of the problems is that if people don't know the citation or at least the general source of the information, it becomes less closely adhered to. How do you know if what you are saying is consistent with what was published if you dont even remember where/when/who published it?
  20. MCParent

    MCParent Faculty Bronze Donor Classifieds Approved 5+ Year Member

    Jan 10, 2012
    You could go back and correct page numbers etc in our quals. But yeah absolutely your principal theoretical approach should be at your fingertips, as should basics of research.
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2017
    Justanothergrad likes this.

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