PhD Comprehensive Examinations

The Department of Classical, Near Eastern, and Religious Studies believes that reading lists constitute the best way to provide students with the general background of the field. Familiarity with these lists is assessed by comprehensive examinations or “comps.”

As part of the requirements for each PhD in the department, students are expected to write two written comprehensive examinations, in the first two weeks of April in the student’s second year of study. These are followed by an oral examination (within two weeks of the written examinations).

Written Examinations:

  • Students in the PhD in Classics write translation exams in both Greek and Latin.
  • Students in the PhD in Classics (Classical Archaeology) write essay exams in both Reading List-Ph.D. in Classical Archaeology.
  • Students in the PhD in Classics (Ancient History) write a translation examination in either Greek or Latin. In lieu of a second exam, students complete Second Field requirements, described with the PhD degree requirements.
  • Students in the PhD in Religious Studies write essay exams on the religious traditions of the ancient Near East and Mediterranean, beginning with Gilgamesh, and including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Reading lists are the same across the cohort and are not tailored to individuals; the content may vary from year to year. Students identify the subjects on which they wish to write by 15 April of their first year to their Graduate Advisor. Lists for the following academic year are available from 1 July. While some works on these lists may be covered as part of the candidate’s coursework, there is no expectation that they will be: students should have the ability to work through all these texts on their own in addition to coursework.

Lists for translation exams represent a prescribed set of primary texts in the original language. These works represent a canon of original authors (literary, historical, and philosophical) that draws from many genres and time periods. The doctoral lists comprise the works on the associated MA list, with additional texts focusing on literature (Classics) or history (Ancient History). The process results in an identifiable and useful body of knowledge that is objectively examinable and fills the gaps in the candidate’s reading of central authors.

Lists for essay exams consist of 50-60 recent and substantial contributions to the relevant field, and are intended to familiarize the student with a core of scholarship and an understanding of major scholarly approaches.

Changes to the lists are the responsibility of the relevant examining committee:

  • PhD in Classics. Classical Languages Committee.
  • PhD in Classics (Classical Archaeology). Archaeology Committee.
  • PhD in Classics (Ancient History). Classical Languages Committee.
  • PhD in Religious Studies. Religious Studies Committee.

The structure of these exams is determined by the examining committee, and is communicated to the student when the lists are provided. Each exam is marked on a pass/fail basis by two department members selected by the chair of the relevant examining committee; if markers disagree the matter is referred to the Director of Graduate Studies (or the Head if the DGS is a marker). A failed exam may be retaken once, in August of the student’s second year.

Structure of Translation Exams. PhD students must attempt any 6 of 8 possible passages (4 verse, 4 prose), for a total of 6 answers.

Oral Examination:

Candidates may only progress to the oral examination once they have passed both reading list examinations.

This exam will be taken within two weeks of successful completion of the written examinations, with at least four faculty present, chaired by the Graduate Advisor or her/his designate. One hour will be devoted to questions about the material covered in each of the written comps. Therefore, the exam will be two hours in length, except for students in the PhD in Classics (Ancient History). Questions will arise from the texts on the PhD reading lists; candidates will not be expected to know material beyond those texts, although credit will be given for breadth as well as depth of knowledge of primary sources. The questions will focus on issues ranging from particular problems relating to specific sources to broader issues relating to the cultural context of the primary material and interpretive models and methodologies scholars use when interpreting it. Sample questions will be made available to help candidates prepare themselves.