sociology books on shelf

Comprehensive Exam (Plan B)

A comprehensive examination is defined by the CSU as an assessment of the student’s ability to integrate the knowledge of the area, show critical and independent thinking, and demonstrate mastery of the subject matter. The results of the examination evidence independent thinking, appropriate organization and high level of writing competency, critical analysis, and accuracy of documentation.

The exam functions as a capstone experience, with students drawing upon and synthesizing disciplinary knowledge acquired in their coursework. It also functions as a demonstration of competence (broad-based knowledge of some important disciplinary issues) and in some cases it provides an opportunity for students to develop research interests they have been working on for some time. 

Students electing to pursue Plan B in their program of study rather than writing a thesis should begin the process by selecting an exam area from the list provided.  The student should then form a CE committee by selecting two faculty members from those listed for that area. The two members are responsible for supervising the Exam (see below for more detail).  Both members of the committee must be on the faculty of the Sociology department. Visiting or Part-time faculty may serve as appropriate and as approved by the Graduate Adviser, although the committee must include at least one full-time tenure/tenure track faculty members.

The student is required to have taken a course in the given area of study.  This course could have been taken during their undergraduate degree or be taken in the graduate program as either: an undergraduate course taken for graduate credit (597), a graduate course (500-700 level), or an independent study (preferably with a committee member).

The student must have taken an additional 700 level course (not an independent study) during their time in the program (either a seminar or 796).  The students may sign up for 797 or 798 during the semester of the exam but this will not fulfill the additional course requirement.

The Comp Exam consists of three parts: the Written Test, the Essay, and Oral Defense. The content and format of the Comp Exam will depend upon a contractual agreement that the student develops with the first and second committee members.  In each case, the student should work to put together an appropriate bibliography of content for which s/he will be responsible in that field of study and have this content amended as necessary and approved by the committee member grading that portion of the exam. This bibliographic work must be completed:  1) prior to gaining committee members’ signatures on the exam form, and 2) prior to the semester in which the student plans to take the exam. Once the bibliography is complete, the CE Agreement form should be signed by the committee members and submitted to Graduate Advisor.

Comp Exam Areas and Professors

Please choose an area and two professors from this area (one of which will serve as Chair). Download CE Agreement Form to fill out with committee members. 

Sociology of:

  • Criminology: McCall, Liu
  • Culture/Media: Kim, Roberts
  • Demography: Ojeda, Beck, Gibbons, Marcelli
  • Education: Choi, Semm, Beck
  • Family: Ojeda, Lui, Beck
  • Gender : McCall, Kim
  • Globalization: Choi, Semm, Roberts
  • Health: Beck, Gibbons, Marcelli
  • Immigration: Esbenshade, Kim, Marcelli
  • Political Sociology/Social Movements: Choi, McCall, Johnston, Roberts
  • Race: Esbenshade, Choi, Gibbons, Kim, Johnston, Roberts
  • Stratification/Class: Esbenshade, Beck, Gibbons, Marcelli, Roberts
  • Theory : Choi, Semm, Roberts
  • Urban: McCall, Gibbons, Roberts

Role of the Chair

The chair will have the following duties in addition to serving as a committee member:

  1. Ensure that the student is making satisfactory progress.
  2. Provide a consistent connection between the department and the student (although the student should consult with each member on their segment).
  3. Take charge of filling out the paperwork at the orals and filing the evaluation with the Graduate Adviser.

The configuration of the exam will depend upon the agreement the student makes with each of the two committee member.  The Written Test is designed to evaluate the student’s knowledge of the “breadth and core concepts" of their chosen area of study.  The Essay is designed to evaluate the student’s in-depth knowledge of the seminal debates in their chosen area of study.

Written Test

Written tests can either take place at home with an open-book format, or take place on campus in a closed-book format, as per the agreement with each examining committee member.  Open-book test should each be completed within 72 hours.  Closed-book tests should each be completed within 4 hours (at a pre-arranged computer on campus). To receive a “pass," written test must include a comprehensive review of appropriate literature and a cogent discussion in response to the questions assigned.  Dates of the tests will be scheduled each semester in accordance with the university schedule for exam completion.


An analytical essay should be 20-30 pages.  The essay may take various forms including but not restricted to the following: a position paper, a literature review, a syllabi with an analytical justification for its content, or a research paper with a research question and empirical data.  The product must be analytical in content, including a comprehensive review of appropriate literature and a cogent discussion of the topic; a purely descriptive account or narrative would be insufficient. The student must confer with the supervising committee member about the essay content and structure during the time s/he is writing. The essay will be due in the department office on the first day of the written exams.  Failure to complete the essay by that date constitutes failure for the essay segment of the comprehensive exam. 

Oral Defense

An oral defense is mandatory.  Both committee members must attend.  Students are responsible for arranging in advance the date and time of the oral defense within the period specified as Oral Exam Period, in conjunction with their committee chair.   The exam (both paper and written test) materials will be provided to both committee members prior to the oral. 


Students who fail in one or both aspect of the exam may re-take that segment in a subsequent semester.  Only one re-take will be permitted.  There is no oral defense on repeat exams.  Students who fail twice on any portion of the exam will not be awarded the MA.

No comprehensive examinations will be offered during the summer semester.

Exam week is around the third to last week of classes

Orals exams are given between the last week of classes and the beginning of finals period 
Grad division posts on the academic calendar the day by which they must receive the results from the Grad Advisor.  
The Grad Advisor must receive the results from the chair two days before the date set by Grad Division.

Exams should be completed within one year of completion of all course requirements.

Graduate Advising

Dr. Enrico Marcelli
Office: NH-219
Phone: (619) 594-5459
Email: [email protected]

Advising Hours for Fall 2018 - Wednesdays 11:00 am to 2:00 pm, Thursdays 11:45 am to 1:45 pm, and by appointment.