Comprehensive Examination

The Comprehensive Examination is a program milestone required for the PhD in Music Theory, Musicology, Composition, and the DMA. (The equivalent milestone for students in the PhD in Music Education is the Qualifying Examination). It gives students the opportunity to demonstrate an appropriate breadth of knowledge in their field and their readiness to write a dissertation/monograph. The examination is written in summer term at the end of Year 2 once all required courses have been completed.

The questions for the Comprehensive Examination are emailed to students by the Graduate Program Assistant on the start date as agreed on, and the completed essays must be submitted by email to the Graduate Program Assistant by the due date (4:00 p.m. EST). Students may not request additional time, and are responsible for correctly noting the due date for their Examination essays.

Comprehensive Examination essays are evaluated on their academic quality, including matters such as engagement with the scholarly literature, calibre of writing, appropriate argumentation, clarity of organization, and appropriate use of scholarly apparatus.

The completed essays are reviewed by the members of the student's Advisory Committee. The possible outcomes are:

  • Pass
  • Supplemental work is required by the student within a given time period (revisions or rewriting one of the essays)
  • Fail (the student is invited to repeat the exercise after a suitable period of time or to withdraw from the program)

Students are encouraged to view copies of previous examination questions kept in a binder in the Graduate Program Assistant's office (TC 216).

PhD in Music Theory, Musicology, Composition

The PhD Comprehensive Examination requires students to write three papers of approximately 20 pages each over a four-week period in response to a set of fairly broad questions grouped into three general categories: methodology, recent literature, and issues. These categories are understood in terms of the student’s field of research.

Students select one question from each category. Members of the PhD Advisory Committees of students writing the examination are invited by the Associate Dean (Graduate Studies) to propose questions, and some questions from previous examinations are also included among the choices.


The DMA Comprehensive Examination requires students to write two papers of approximately 15 pages each over a three-week period.

Essay 1 is a research paper written in response to a list of at least two possible essay topics dealing with repertoire for the student’s instrument and related issues. Members of the student’s DMA Advisory Committee are asked to submit questions to the Associate Dean (Graduate Studies) for the Comprehensive Examination.

Essay 2 lays the foundation for the DMA monograph, and provides students with a platform to use to seek a monograph supervisor. In Essay 2 students should:

  • articulate a research question suitable for a DMA monograph
  • provide a preliminarly literature review
  • explain the methodology that will be used
  • explain the significance of the research 
  • include a sample of the type of research the student will do.