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Comprehensive Exam Non-thesis Capstone Experience

Comprehensive Exam Guidelines

Students pursuing the non-thesis capstone option will complete a 6-hour written comprehensive exam in their last semester of coursework. The exam consists of three questions addressing theory, research methods, and students' areas of interest and course specialization. The questions should cover both organizational and human communication concepts. The following sections describe the process in more detail.

First, in their last semester, students will form a comprehensive exam committee consisting of a chair and two other members from among the communication graduate faculty and submit a Comprehensive Exam Committee Form to the Graduate Program Coordinator.

Second, students will meet with the committee in the 3rd week of the semester they intend to graduate.

During this meeting, the candidate and the committee should come to an agreement about the theories, methodologies, and areas of specialization for testing. Each student will take exams over:

  •  Two theories/typologies/models 
  • One research design (e.g., interviewing, focus groups, experiments, surveys, rhetorical criticism)
  • Two areas of specialization (e.g., narratives, sibling communication, crisis, health, etc.)

Then, the committee will develop a set of 10 potential/sample exam questions to be shared with the student (ideally, there will be two potential/sample questions that cover each theory chosen, two that cover the research design chosen, and two that cover area of specialization chosen). Once the committee has approved the student’s bibliography (see below for requirements), the chair of the committee will facilitate the creation of three, synthesized final exam questions to be submitted to the Graduate Director. Keep in mind that a topic can only appear in one category, even though the argument could be made that a specific theory is also an area of specialization. For example, if a student chooses to use image repair as one of the theories, then this may not be listed again as an area of specialization. Something like “Best Practices in Crisis Response” could be used as an area of specialization, citing different articles. Final questions, however, may cross categories. For example, the committee may ask the student to use a particular theory in formulating hypotheses for a research design question.

By an agreed upon date before or during the 5th week of the semester, the student should e-mail a bibliography to their committee for approval. The bibliography should contain the proper APA formatted citations for a minimum of 20 academic journal articles or book chapters that explain, support, or criticize each theory, research design, and area of specialization selected in the initial meeting. Chosen sources should allow the student to answer any combination of the 10 potential/sample questions posed or similar questions that may be used as final exam questions. The bibliography will serve as a study guide for the exam. The committee and the candidate should agree on the completed bibliography by the end of the 7th week of the semester for the student to have adequate time to study for the exam.

Finally, comprehensive exams are scheduled by the department during the 10th week of the Fall and Spring semester and will not be administered in the summer. All exams will be completed in-house in a room and time set by the department. Students are allowed the use of a six-page (front-side only, 10-point font) annotated bibliography during the exam. The annotated bibliography is due to the exam proctor via e-mail attachment 48 hours before the exam for approval. If the annotated bibliography is not approved, the student must make the proctor’s suggested changes by the time of the exam or the student will not be allowed use of the annotated bibliography during the exam. The proctor will print all approved annotated bibliographies and bring them to the exam for student use.

Students are expected to develop high quality responses and include important communication sources. Although a reference page is not required, students should use APA parenthetical citations (author last name, year) throughout. All responses should be at least 1,000 words and cite at least 5 sources. All students will complete exams in the Communication Success Center lab. 

Once submitted, the committee will evaluate the responses and indicate the quality of the response using the following scale: H (Pass with Honors); P (Pass); F (Fail). Students must receive a “P” on all exam questions in order to graduate. Each question will be evaluated using the exam rubrics located on the department website. Students will be notified about the results of their exams by the exam committee chair by the end of the 12th week.

If a student receives a failing grade on an exam question, they will have one additional opportunity to pass the comprehensive exam by writing a literature review on the topical area needing work (as indicated by the committee). The paper should be 12-15 pages, written in 12-point font, Times New Roman, and double-spaced. The Comprehensive Exam committee will evaluate the paper and make a determination on whether the student has successfully passed. In order for a student to graduate in the same semester the exam is taken, the literature review should be submitted at the end of the 15th week of the semester.

Comprehensive Exam Committee Form

Comprehensive Exam Rubrics

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 Last Modified 8/25/22