Comprehensive Exams


After completing the necessary course work for a Master's degree in the History Department at Sam Houston State University, each student must pass both a written and an oral exam.

Forming Your Exam Committee

A photograph of a student studying for the Comprehensive Exams page of Master of Arts in History

At the beginning of a student’s final year, he or she must establish a comprehensive exam committee. To do so, the student should complete the following steps.

1) Contact the professor with whom you have taken the most courses and request that he or she serve as chair of the exam committee.

2) Contact two additional professors with whom you have taken courses and request their service as exam committee members.

3) As you contact the committee members, you should also select three fields for your comprehensive exams. Available fields are: Early America, 19th Century U.S., Modern U.S., American South, U.S. Social/Cultural History, Women’s History, Latin America, Hispanic World, Pre-Modern Europe, Modern Europe, Military History, and World History. (Note: each field selected should correspond to an exam committee member).

4) After contacting and receiving notification from three faculty members willing to serve on the exam committee, the student must complete the Application for Comprehensive Exam, which includes committee members’ names, the corresponding fields, and the date and location of the written exam.

5) Deadlines for the Application for Comprehensive Exam form are as follows:
September 15 for Fall; February 15 for Spring; and May 15 for Summer II. 
The History Department does not administer exams during mid-summer.

6) Written and Oral Examinations should be completed between October 1 and November 15 during the Fall semester. Written and Oral Examinations should be completed between March 1 and April 15 for the Spring semester.

Online Students: Taking the Exams Off-Site

On-line students must locate a testing site with a proctor to receive the written questions and administer the test. In general, the student should choose a proctor with whom s/he has no personal or close working relationship. Local testing facilities are readily available at schools and libraries. The Graduate Director must approve the proctoring arrangements before you take your exams. You will also need to use the proctored location for your oral exam, which is generally taken by telephone or Skype.

Preparing for the Exams

After applying for Comprehensive Exams, the student will provide exam committee members with a list of the books or other materials read for their courses. The exam will be based on information included in these materials. The student must demonstrate a command of the content and arguments presented in the assigned readings as well as a broader sense of the historiographical trends in the selected fields.

What Should Students Know

On written and oral examinations, the student will be expected

1) to know basic chronology and facts, including names, dates, people and places, and

2) be able to describe changes in ideas and theories about historical subjects by comparing the authors who proposed them and the books or articles in which these ideas have appeared. The student must be able to trace historiographical changes in the literature from the information learned during the program.

The Written Examination

The committee chair will gather the questions for the written exam from other committee members. The student must identify a mutually agreeable time to take the written exam. Please stay in contact with the committee chair to avoid problems.

Each committee member will provide a selected number of broad questions. The student must answer the questions clearly, providing a logically argued theme with supporting data from books, articles, and material read in class.

A computer or blue books may be used for the exam.

The student will have three hours to complete the exam.

Committee members will grade the written exams within two weeks. Students who pass the three sections of the written exam will proceed to the oral exam. Students who fail one or more sections of the written exam may retake those sections one time. It is likely that this will delay graduation by a semester. In any event, the student must complete any re-examination within one calendar year of the original exam date. Failure to do so will result in removal from the program.

The Oral Examination

After notification that the written exam has been passed, the student must schedule the oral exam at a time that is convenient for all three committee members as well as for yourself. For an on-line student, the oral exam will consist of a conference call placed to a pre-approved, proctored examination site. The student must locate a proctoring site that can oversee a phone-based oral examination under acceptable testing conditions. On-campus students will complete their exams at the History Department offices.

The oral exams consist of questions about any or all of the information you learned in class. The student will be expected to compare and contrast ideas and concepts from books in all the fields of concentration. The student will be asked to leave the room after the oral exam, and committee members will grade the performance as pass or fail. An on-line student will hang up, and the committee will call you back after the discussion.

After passing the exam, the student will continue the graduation process. The student who fails, however, will need to repeat the oral exam within one calendar year of the original exam date even if it means registering for another semester. Failure to do so will result in removal from the program. The student who fails the oral exam a second time will be dropped from the program.

Additional Information

If you have additional questions, please contact the History Department's Graduate Director.

Dr. Jeffrey L. Littlejohn
Department of History
Sam Houston State University
Huntsville, Texas 77341-2239

Phone: 936-294-1475


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