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Comprehensive Exam

The purpose of the comprehensive exam in a PhD program is to determine the preparedness of students to perform tasks composing the scientific research process in the field of computing.  This includes having knowledge in core areas of their specific emphasis, understanding relevant scientific literature, designing and writing software components, and presenting technical information both orally and in writing.

Please refer to Appendix B in the Student Handbook for detailed comprehensive exam procedures and a helpful checklist.

About the Comp Exam



Can I take the comp exam in the summer?

The computing program strongly encourages all students to complete the comprehensive exam during the regular fall or spring semester. This is for several reasons:

  • It is very difficult to coordinate faculty schedules during the summer. This includes your committee members as well as the external reviewers. Many faculty are on 9-month contracts and aren’t available in the summer.
  • Most graduate assistantships do not include a budget to pay for summer course fees.

We recommend that students who want to complete their exam in the summer instead register for fall, but do the work over summer and prepare everything so you can complete the oral exam early in the fall semester.

Who is the GFR?

The GFR (Graduate Faculty Representative) is a faculty member outside of computing. They aren’t involved in your comp exam. Since you have to form your supervisory committee for your comp exam, GFRs are appointed at the same time (Grad college policy). Your GFR will attend your dissertation defense. Learn more about GFRs on the Grad College website.

Contact the program coordinator to find a GFR.

Who is the CompEE?

The Comp exam External Evaluator (CompEE) is a computing faculty member appointed by the program co-directors. They read your synthesis paper, look at your computing artifact, and attend your oral presentation. They also vote on if you pass the comp exam. They must attend your comp exam presentation.

What are the deadlines for completing the comp exam?

Deadline to register: Students must register by the final date to add with a permission number, as listed on the academic calendar. 

Deadline to present: The final day to present is always one week before grades are due. Please refer to the academic calendar. 

What forms do I have to submit for my comp exam?

  • Prior to submitting your synthesis paper and computing artifact submit the Affirmation of Original Work
  • On the day of your exam, print the Comprehensive Exam Approval Form and take it with you.
    • Return your signed approval form to the program administrator, and send a digital copy of your synthesis paper to