Doctoral Comprehensive Examination

A doctoral student must successfully complete the comprehensive examination within a period of five years beginning with the first semester of enrollment as a PhD student.

The comprehensive examination consists of a written section and an oral section. It must be completed at least seven months before the final defense of the dissertation. The two sections of the examination must be completed within one month.

The student must be enrolled to take this examination. It is to be administered only when MU is officially in session. Both the written and oral sections of the exam can only be administered during a regular semester session (including exam week) of Fall, Spring, and Summer sessions, excluding holidays and weekends.

Written Exam

The written section of the examination is arranged and supervised by the major advisor. It takes the following form. Three math department members of the Doctoral Program Committee (separately) arrange with the student to study a specific topic (e.g., an important paper in the area of research or theorems in a book at the level of an Advanced Graduate class) for a few months. Based on these topics, members of the committee prepare a set of 9 written questions. The student has two weeks to answer these questions in writing and submit the written exam to the committee for evaluation. To proceed to the oral exam, students must receive no more than one vote of “fail” or “abstain.”

Oral Exam

After the successful completion of the written exam, the oral exam should take place no more than one month after the written exam has been submitted.

The oral exam is meant to be an oral defense of the written exam, and it involves the entire committee meeting.

Successful Completion

For the comprehensive examination to be completed successfully, the doctoral advisory committee must vote to pass the student on the entire examination, both written and oral sections, with no more than one dissenting or abstaining vote.

A report of this decision, the Doctoral Comprehensive Examination Results form (D3), with the signatures of all committee members, must be sent to the Graduate School and the student no later than two weeks after the comprehensive examination is completed.


A failure of either the written or oral section of the exam constitutes failure of the comprehensive exam.

If a failure is reported, the committee also must include in the report an outline of the general weaknesses or deficiencies of the student’s work. This report should be sent to the Graduate School as well.

The student and the committee members are encouraged to work together to identify steps the student might take to become fully prepared for the next examination.

Request for Clarification

If at any time the student believes the advice given by the committee is inadequate, the student may send a written request for clarification to the committee.

A copy of this request should be sent to the Graduate School as well. The committee must respond to this request in writing within two weeks and a copy must be filed with the Graduate School.

Retaking the Exam

A student who fails may not take a second comprehensive examination for at least 12 weeks. Failure to pass two comprehensive examinations automatically prevents candidacy.

Continuous Enrollment After the Exam

Students must maintain continuous-enrollment status during their doctoral candidacy. Continuous enrollment status as a doctoral candidate begins at the onset of the term immediately following successful completion of the comprehensive examination.

Continuous enrollment status provides students with access to the following resources for dissertation completion:

  • Advisor Support
  • Doctoral Program
  • Committee Guidance University Research Facilities

To maintain continuous enrollment, students must register for at least 2 hours during the Spring and Fall semesters and 1 hour during the Summer semester using myZou. Students who have enrollment difficulties should contact their director of graduate studies or the Graduate School’s doctoral academic advisor for registration assistance.