Carnegie Mellon University

Comprehensive Examination

This examination is designed to evaluate the student's general knowledge and preparation for undertaking a doctoral program in his or her chosen area of study. The examination is customized for each student. 

The Comprehensive Examination consists of two parts:

Written Examination    The written examination is a series of questions developed by the Comprehensive Exam Committee that are appropriate to the student's academic background and research focus area.

Examination is scheduled following one semester of full-time residence in the PhD program or after three semesters for direct-entry PhD students. The written examination is open book and will involve four days of work. 
Oral Examination 

The oral examination consists of follow-up questions based on the student's written examination responses. Questions may also include topics related to the student's academic background and research focus area.

You will need to complete the Committee Signature Form prior to the oral exam and present it to the Committee Chair The oral examination should be scheduled within one month after the written examination. Do not communicate or discuss the content of the written examination or your responses. You should review written responses prior to the oral examination and be prepared to defend your responses.

Grading and Evaluation

The grading and evaluation of the Comprehensive Examination will not be announced until a review has been conducted by the entire faculty of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Exam outcomes, whether official or unofficial, will not be communicated to the examinee until after the faculty as a whole have discussed the outcome and agreed on the decision.

Possible examination outcomes are as follows:

Unconditional Pass The student performs satisfactorily in both written and oral portions of the Comprehensive Exam.
Conditional Pass The student must satisfy a set of conditions before s/he can be considered as being deemed to have passed the exam. The committee should be specific on the timeframe for completion of the conditions. A conditional pass should not be awarded when a portion of the exam is to be retaken. A conditional pass does not require another review by the committee. 
No Decision     The committee has agreed and decided that the student should re-take all or a portion of the exam at a time specified by the committee and agreed upon by the examinee. It is recommended that retakes are scheduled the following May, but no later than the traditional scheduled exam period the following January. New questions must be written for partial or full retakes.
Fail The student did not perform satisfactorily in the exam. When a student fails, there is no option for that student to retake the exam.

Comprehensive Examination Committee

The Comprehensive Examination Committee consists of four members including:

A minimum of two full-time faculty from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, one of whom must be tenured faculty.

A third faculty member from either the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering or another department at Carnegie Mellon University.

A fourth member from another department at Carnegie Mellon University, another university, or a governmental or industrial research group as appropriate.

The composition of the committee should be mutually agreed upon by the student and advisor. The examination committee members are not necessarily the same as members of the student’s doctoral committee.