University of Pittsburgh

Graduate Studies

Comprehensive Examination: Old Version

The Department of Sociology has two versions of the Comprehensive Examination for PhD candidates. Those entering the program in fall of 2007 or later will be required to take the new version. Those who entered the program before fall 2007 will be grandfathered and may choose between either the current version or the old version, which is detailed here.

The comprehensive examination is designed to test the student's mastery of sociological thinking, ability to use sociological research methods, and depth and breadth of knowledge in the selected major and minor areas of specialization. By the end of the third or midway through the fourth year, students must demonstrate their ability to compile, synthesize, and evaluate the theoretical and methodological material relevant to advanced study and their research. The comprehensive examination is individualized and measures students' preparation for entrance into doctoral candidacy. The student develops a reading list in consultation with their comprehensive examination committee.

The examination can be taken as either a take-home written examination or an in-house written examination on the materials covered by the reading list. The choice of the exam format should be decided upon in consultation with the committee chair. The take-home examination is written over a seven-day period. The nine-hour, in-house examination consists of both a six-hour examination in the major area of specialty and a three-hour examination for the minor area of specialty, taken over two consecutive days. The comprehensive committee may request an oral examination if further clarification of the student's written answers are needed.

The examination is evaluated as Pass with Distinction, Pass or Fail. If failed, one retake of the examination is permitted. This retake will include only the failed part or parts of the examination.


  • Students each obtain signatures from three faculty, at least two from within the department.
  • Students each specify two (and only two) areas of concentration, one major (with two members, including the committee chair) and one minor (which may have an external member).
  • Students each provide an expected date for the examination.

The department does not place a priori limits on areas of concentration, although the major area of concentration should be related in some way to the department's focus on social inequalities.

The comprehensive examination committee chair is responsible for coordinating standards and procedures (number of questions, degree of choice in questions, appropriate extensiveness and depth of bibliography, etc.) with the other committee members and for communicating expectations to the student.