Alternative Comprehensive Exams

A student seeking to complete an alternative for one of the specialty exams takes the following steps:

  • The student forms a committee of three members, including one who will act in the role of chair of the exam committee. The committee members must all be regular faculty members in the Department of Sociology. In special cases, students can petition the graduate committee to have one committee member from outside of the department. For these petitions to be successful, the person must be a member of the Maryland graduate faculty, and the student must make a strong case that the person adds expertise in an area of the sociology literature that cannot be found inside the department.
  • The student and committee together define the substantive coverage and label for the exam. The defining feature of this new system is that it will allow students and faculty together to define areas of concentration. At the same time, there is an expectation that the content of the exam reflect a coherent body of theory and research in sociology of sufficient breadth. The topic area of the alternative exam cannot be subsumed entirely within one of our existing areas. The goal of this alternative is to allow students to draw on the strengths of our faculty. Thus, the expectation is that committees will be formed to draw on the expertise of our faculty, and students should not expect faculty to sit on committees in topic areas outside of their areas of expertise.
  • The student and committee together determine how the component of the exam evaluated by the committee will look. The exam can potentially take multiple forms, from a take-home exam to a research proposal that incorporates extensive literatures. These are only examples, and the content of the exam is to be determined between the student and committee.
  • The student and committee draft a contract that specifies the topic area of the exam, the requirements for the student to sit for the exam, how the evaluated component of the exam will look, and when the exam will be completed. Students and faculty should use the Alternative Comprehensive Area Proposal form as the basis of the contract. The completed contract will be turned into the graduate office at the same time that students declare for the traditional comps. The elements of the contract will be subject to the approval of the graduate office.
  • The graduate office will have responsibility for administering the exam (how this will look will of course vary based on the format of the exam). The completion date of the exam will be considered firm, and not completing the exam by the date specified will be treated the same as failing an exam under our current system.
  • Again, students need not choose an alternative exam and may sit for two exams in the system as it is currently set up. Students who do complete an alternative exam may complete it before, after, or in the same semester as the other specialty exam, but it must be completed prior to the beginning of the student’s fourth year. (For students who came in under the formal MA thesis requirement, the exam must be completed by the end of the fall semester of the student’s fourth year.)

Please contact the Graduate Office with any questions about procedural matters. Questions about whether particular topic areas or evaluation procedures represent reasonable options for the exam are best posed to faculty members likely to sit on the exam committee.


Alternative Comprehensive Exam Proposal Form