Faculty of Health Sciences Comprehensive Examination Guidelines

All students completing a Doctor of Philosophy in Population Studies in Health should refer to the overarching comprehensive examination guidelines within the School of Graduate Studies Policies and Procedures.

These guidelines apply to students enrolled in the Population Studies in Health major in the Doctor of Philosophy degree program whose supervisor or primary co-supervisor is a faculty member in the Faculty of Health Sciences.

All PhD students are required to complete a comprehensive examination no sooner than 12 months and no later than 24 months (2 years) after their registration in the program. The exam will test the student’s knowledge and understanding of topics related to the student’s area of concentration and research interest. These include, but are not limited to, topics such as population/public health, global health, health services and policy research, indigenous health, health promotion, rural/urban community health, demography, gambling research, addictions and mental health, community rehabilitation and disability research, and aging/palliative/supportive care.

The comprehensive examination has both a written and an oral components. The written component is completed and assessed first. A student who passes the written component will continue to the oral component. The oral component is graded as either Pass or Fail.

A student who fails the written component will be given a second opportunity to repeat the written examination. A student who fails the oral component will be given a second opportunity to repeat the oral examination. A student who fails any portion of the comprehensive examination may retake the exam within four (4) months following the date on which their previous exam results were released.

A student has two attempts to pass either the written or the oral component. Please review the Comprehensive Examination Policy in the Graduate Studies Calendar and Course Catalogue for additional details.

The Comprehensive Examination Committee

The Comprehensive Examination Committee consists of:

  • The Chair: A faculty member in the University who is not the student’s supervisor, and who has been approved by the MSc/PhD Program Committee. The Chair of the Comprehensive Examination Committee (approved by the MSc/PhD Program Committee) is a representative of the School of Graduate Studies and is required to be familiar with the policies and procedures related to the examination.
  • Members of the student’s Supervisory Committee, including the supervisor(s).
  • If deemed appropriate, the Comprehensive Examination Committee can include an External Examiner (approved by the MSc/PhD Program Committee or the SGS) who is not a member of the student’s supervisory committee.

At least six (6) months prior to the scheduled date of the comprehensive examination, the supervisor will recommend members for the Comprehensive Examination Committee to the Master of Science Health Sciences and Doctor of Philosophy Populations Health Program Committee and submit the Comprehensive Examination Notification form to the SGS.

The Comprehensive Examination Format

Each member of the supervisory committee will be asked to submit two or three questions derived from the reading list. The Comprehensive Examination Committee Chair is responsible for coordinating the development, collation, and selection of eight (8) examination questions (4 from each of parts A and B as outlined below) and administering the comprehensive examination. The dates for the written and oral components of the comprehensive examination will be set by the Comprehensive Examination Committee.

During the comprehensive examination process, the student will only be allowed to consult with the Comprehensive Examination Committee Chair concerning the examination’s content. The student is expected to demonstrate proficiency in both written and spoken English.

Examination Component:


Written Component

  •  The committee will provide the candidate with a reading list approximately five (5) months prior to the written examination date.
  • The written examination will consist of questions about the general discipline and the student’s specific research area and associated methods. The student will choose from the eight questions provided as follows:
    • Part A: three (3) questions (from at least four (4) questions) from the general discipline (e.g. Population/Public Health, Global Health, Health Services & Policy Research, Indigenous Health, Health Promotion, Rural/Urban Community Health, Demography, Gambling Research, Addictions and Mental Health, Community Rehabilitation & Disability Research, Aging/Palliative/Supportive Care Across the Life Course, etc.).
    • Part B: two (2) questions (from at least four (4) questions) from the specific research area and associated methods (e.g. qualitative/ quantitative research methods, data acquisition, statistical methods, etc.)
  • The written component will be a take-home examination format lasting five (5) weeks.

Oral Component

  • The oral examination will follow within four (4) weeks of the written
  • The Comprehensive Examination Committee members will ask the
    candidate questions about the candidate’s responses to Parts A and B
    of the written examination described above. The maximum time for
    questions is two (2) hours. Normally, the Chair of the Comprehensive
    Examination Committee does not ask questions.
  • Immediately following the question period, the Comprehensive
    Examination Committee members will render a Pass/Fail decision, and
    the candidate will be informed of the decision.


Important Note

The grading of the Comprehensive Examination is either Pass or Fail. Directly after the oral component, the student will be asked to leave the examination room. In a closed session, the Comprehensive Examination Committee will then award a Pass/Fail grade for the oral component of the Comprehensive Examination. In the case where no unanimous decision about grading is reached by the Comprehensive Examination Committee, the majority of the committee members will decide the grade. A tie vote will result in a Fail. After the closed session, the student will be invited into the examination room and will be informed of their grade. A maximum of two attempts on each written comprehensive examination is allowed. The student has two attempts to pass either the written or the oral component of the oral examination. Please review the Comprehensive Examination Policy in the Graduate Studies Calendar and Course Catalogue for additional details.

A student has the right to appeal the grade of the Comprehensive Examination. The process of such an appeal is the same as that for an appeal of thesis examination decision as outlined in the Doctor of Philosophy Program Section of the Graduate Studies Calendar and Course Catalogue.


Approved by Graduate Council on September 12, 2018.