Departmental Examinations

< back to Policies & Guidelines 

Code of Good Practice


The phrase "departmental examinations" refers to examinations taken in common by all doctoral students, usually in the first two years of their program. These are known by various names across the four divisions of SGS: "general examinations", "qualifying examinations", "comprehensive examinations", etc. It does not refer to language examinations, nor to tailored examinations.


The role of the examinations in the program should be understood by both faculty and students.

1. The examinations must be set and graded by members of the graduate faculty. Departments should have clear and consistent procedures for the assignment of these duties.

2. Where appropriate, the examinations should be held at regular intervals and announced well in advance of the actual dates.


According to SGS policy, students are entitled to “clear information about the expectations of the examiners, including the types of anticipated questions” in all examinations, and to “a written statement describing the evaluation processes” in the case of forms of assessment—such as comprehensive, general, or qualifying exams—specific to the programs of graduate departments, centres, and institutes. Units that choose to conduct comprehensive examinations ought therefore to ensure that candidates are provided with this information, which will most likely be of a general character (e.g., "to display the candidate's critical ability and mastery of the area" and "evaluation is on a pass/fail basis"), either as part of the graduate brochure or as a separate document distributed to all PhD candidates.

Candidates must be advised of such practical matters as the stage in the program at which the examination may or must be taken; the time and place at which it is to be held; the format of the examination (written, oral, take-home, etc.); the relative weight of each part (including the relative weight of each question in a written paper); the availability of reading lists and other guides, such as sample questions; the process by which results will be communicated; the timetable for resitting; and the procedures for review or appeal.


1. The graduate unit should anticipate students’ needs for advice about the examination and assign responsibility accordingly, e.g., to the graduate coordinator, to a specified faculty member, or to a committee.

Notification of Results

1. Graduate units should announce a reasonable timeframe​​​ for the evaluation and ratification of results.

2. In the case of failed examinations, students are entitled to an explanation of the reasons for their failure. This explanation should normally be provided in a written form.

3. In cases of failure, candidates should be clearly informed of the courses of action available to them, including the procedures for review and appeal. Where there is provision for retaking the examination, the schedule for resitting should be explained and sources of counselling indicated. If the examination is in several parts (e.g., written and oral), candidates should be told which parts they will be required to attempt again.

Reviews & Appeals

Graduate units should have, and should make available to students, clear policies about the re-reading of examinations and the procedures for appeal.