All students receiving the M.A. Degree will complete a Comprehensive Examination. This examination is considered a capstone experience for M.A. students, for it provides an opportunity for the student to explore specific questions beyond the level typical of most courses. Answering the questions on the examination will require use of both the primary and secondary literature.
The Comprehensive Examination consists of a written and an oral component. The format of the Comprehensive Examination reflects two of the goals of the Master's programs in Biology. First, the examination is designed to promote critical thinking on the part of the student. This goal is reflected not only in the questions themselves but also in the discussion of the answers in the oral portion of the Examination. Second, both the written and oral portions of the examination promote effective communication of scientific ideas and research results. We view both of these goals as processes; as such, we encourage active interaction between the student and the members of the Examination Panel.
The Comprehensive Examination involves several steps that require planning well before beginning the Exam. To take the Exam, the M.A. student must be in their last semester or have completed 24 hours of course credit. The first step in the process is the formation of an Examination Panel. Each Exam will be administered by a three-member Panel chosen in part by the student and in part by the Graduate Committee. When preparing to take the Comprehensive Examination, the student will choose the Chair of the examination panel from the Villanova Biology Graduate Faculty. In addition, the student will provide the names of five additional Graduate Faculty members willing to serve on the Examination Panel. Research Assistant Professors (or ranks above) may serve as either the Chair or one of the additional members of the M.A. examination panel. Teaching postdoctoral fellows who have taught or are teaching graduate courses, as well as full-time tenured or tenure track faculty members who are not on the Graduate Faculty may serve as panel members, but not as Chair. No more than one such panel member may serve on any single examination panel. The student will notify the Chair of the Graduate Committee that he/she is ready to take the Comprehensive Exam and to indicate their choices for their Examination Panel by submitting an Application for Comprehensive Examination form at least one month prior to the date on which the exam will be given to the student. Once the form is received, the Department of Biology Graduate Committee will appoint the two additional members from the list provided by the student to serve on the Panel.
The Chair the student chooses who will serve this important role on the Examination Panel. The Chair will be responsible for overseeing the examination. This includes, (1) helping determine the schedule for both the written and the oral components of the examination in consultation with the student and the other two members of the Examination Panel; (2) ensuring that all members of the examination panel receive copies of the questions asked by the other panel members; and (3) ensuring that all members of the examination panel receive copies of the written answers of the student.
Each member of the Panel will submit three questions (for a total of nine questions for each Comprehensive Examination). At least one of the questions from each Panel member must address the scientific method, including experimental design and hypothesis testing. After receiving the questions, the student will have six weeks to answer any two of the questions asked by each Panel member (total of six questions). At least one of the six answered questions must pertain to the scientific method mentioned above. The test is to be an open note, open book test that will require library work using primary literature and should be appropriately referenced. The student is especially encouraged to approach the Panel members with inquiries regarding the scope and content of the specific questions.
The schedule for the Comprehensive Examination follows a predetermined course; the student and all faculty involved in the Exam must complete the form entitled, Timetable for the Comprehensive Examination prior to receiving the questions. The schedule for the Exam is as follows:
The student must return the completed exam to the Panel Chair within the allotted time.
The panel will notify the student in writing of his/her performance on the written portion of the Exam no later than seven weeks after the student receives the questions. To be able to proceed to the oral portion of the Exam, the student must satisfactorily answer four of the six questions (including at least one from each Panel member). The oral portion of the exam will be scheduled at any time that is convenient for the four participants, but no later than eight weeks after the student received the questions. Questions answered unsatisfactorily will be pointed out and the student encouraged to research the topic more thoroughly before taking the oral portion of the Exam. If three or more questions are answered unsatisfactorily (or two questions from any one Panel member), the student will not be permitted to take the oral portion of the Exam, and he/she will have to reapply to take the Exam the following semester. Note that in order to graduate by a specific date, the Exam must be taken prior to the final date for Comprehensive Examinations set by the Office of Graduate Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences.
The oral exam will be scheduled for two hours. Each Panel member will direct two, 20-minute periods for questioning (one during each hour). The written component will be used as a basis for the oral examination; the questions should be an elaboration (or defense) of the written questions, but may go beyond the questions and explore new but related areas of biology. The oral Examination need not necessarily cover all six questions during the period.
After the end of the two hours, the Panel will excuse the student to discuss the results of the Exam. To pass the Exam, all three Panel members must agree that the student has performed at a passing level. The student fails if one or more members concludes that the student has performed at a failing level. The student will be notified immediately of the results. At this point, the Comprehensive Examination Report should be completed and filed in the student's permanent file.
If the student fails the Exam, he/she can retake the Exam the following semester following the same procedures as above. A new Panel will be formed for the second Examination. The Comprehensive Examination can be taken only once during a semester. If the student fails the Examination a second time, he/she will be dropped from the Graduate Program.