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Comprehensive Exams

The purposes of comprehensive examinations for students in the master's program of Educational Psychology are

  1. to fulfill the requirement of the Graduate School for the administration of a comprehensive examination for master’s students, and
  2. to evaluate the ability of master’s students to synthesize research and theory in Educational Psychology and to present this information in an effective written format.

The student’s paper that comprises the comprehensive examination may have one of several origins:

  • It may be related to one of the required courses in the Educational Psychology;
  • it may be the student’s revision of a paper prepared for a graduate class; or
  • it may be a new paper prepared by the student specifically for the purposes of this comprehensive examination.

Additional information on requirements is contained in the remainder of this webpage.

Written comprehensive examinations are required for all graduate students in the master’s program in Educational Psychology. Students are advised to refer to Graduate School requirements for comprehensive examinations. See the University catalog section on Master’s Degree Requirements and particularly the subsection “Written Comprehensive Examinations.” Students are also advised to consult policies and requirements of the Graduate School related to graduation. Typically, students will apply for graduation prior to taking the comprehensive examination.

Master’s students are eligible to take the comprehensive examination (according to Graduate School policy) when they have:

  1. Been granted regular admission to the program
  2. Completed 15 credit hours of required coursework in Educational Psychology

In unusual cases, the advisor will endorse the student’s eligibility prior to completing the full 15 hours when the student has:

  1. Earned a GPA of at least 3.0 in the program
  2. Received approval from the student’s advisor about the paper’s topic and the student’s fulfillment of the previous criteria.
  3. (After obtaining the advisor’s signature), secured a signature from the graduate program coordinator.

Students may apply for a comprehensive examination permit in the office of the School of Psychological Sciences and are issued a permit for the examination. This permit verifies the students’ fulfillment of requirements for taking the examination and notifies the School of Psychological Sciences of students’ intentions to take the examination. Students are encouraged to apply for this permit early in the term or semester for which they hope to complete the examination.

Students may begin preparation for the examination prior to filing the permit (for example, they might discuss their interests in preparing a paper on a particular topic with their advisors early in their program). However, students cannot formally begin or complete the comprehensive examination until they have an approved permit.

You can download the Permission to Take Written Comprehensive Examination form or pick it up from the School of Psychological Sciences Office in McKee 14. You will also need to sign and return the Comprehensive Exam Honor Code.

Format, Criteria, and Evaluation of Comprehensive Exams

The comprehensive examination will follow the format of a capstone paper or literature review. The paper will focus on a topic related to Educational Psychology and will be approved as a topic by the student’s advisor. The paper may be an extension of the student’s work in a graduate class at UNC, but at least 75% of the content must be new and not previously submitted as a course assignment. 

In addition, the student should be aware that the criteria for evaluation for the comprehensive examination will differ from criteria for evaluation used by an instructor for a particular assignment in a course (these criteria are outlined below). Students may receive feedback from the advisor prior to formal submission of the paper as the comprehensive examination. However, the paper should be predominantly the work of the student, not the advisor, another instructor, or some other person.

Should the student wish to seek other advice (e.g., from a statistical consultant or an editor), the student needs to discuss this matter ahead of time with the advisor. The advisor will consult with the student and ensure that any such guidance is limited and does not detract from the attribution that the paper is primarily an accomplishment of the student. Students will be asked to sign an affirmation that confirms that the work is primarily their own work and does not reflect an act of plagiarism.

Formatting of Capstone Paper

The paper should be formatted according to the latest style manual of the American Psychological Association (6th edition or later). Length should be approximately 30 pages and more specifically between 25 and 35 pages (title page, reference list and any tables or figures are above and beyond the 25 - 35 page range). Paper should be double spaced, with one-inch margins, and with a legible 12-point Times Roman font.

Capstone Paper Review and Results

The examination paper will be read by the advisor and one other faculty member in the School of Psychological Sciences with concentrated expertise in the area. If the two faculty members disagree in their recommendations (pass or fail), a third member will read the paper. It generally takes two weeks for students to receive the results of the examination.

According to UNC Graduate School policy, a student who fails the comprehensive examination is permitted one retake of the examination that must be scheduled in a subsequent semester from the original examination. The student will submit a rewrite/revision of the paper to be submitted the following semester and to be reevaluated according to the criteria described above. Per the Graduate School policy, failure of a retake of an examination will result in the student’s termination from the master’s program.

Resources for Completion of Examination

Students may use resources (e.g., dictionary, journal articles, books, internet) as they compose the paper. Citations of the work of theorists and researchers need to be included.

Rubric for Evaluation of Comprehensive Examination
M.A. Educational Psychology Comprehensive Examination Policy

 This option for the comprehensive examination will be based on the student’s involvement in a research project or other application activity (e.g., curriculum development, measurement, assessment or evaluation project, etc). The culmination of this involvement will be reflected in a written product (i.e., the comprehensive examination).

Formatting of Master's Project

The nature and form of this written product will be agreed upon through discussion between the faculty mentor and student; however, it is anticipated that it will take the form of an APA-style report of approximately 15 pages. The comprehensive examination will follow the format of a capstone paper or literature review. The paper will focus on a topic related to Educational Psychology and will be approved as a topic by the student’s advisor. The paper may be an extension of the student’s work in a graduate class at UNC, but at least 75% of the content must be new and not previously submitted as a course assignment.

Master's Project Review and Results

The two faculty readers must use the standardized rubric for the M.A. literature review or empirical paper (see links below). The two-faculty member committee should agree upon all evaluation standards for a project that is not a literature review or empirical paper. These comprehensive project options must be approved by the two-faculty member committee using the Topic Approval Form. Students may register for a maximum of 12 credits of PSY 697 Master's Project in Psychology to complete this M.A. comprehensive exam option.

Rubric for evaluation of Master’s Project option for Comprehensive Exam

 The master's thesis option for comprehensive examination may be selected with the approval of the student’s advisor and the Graduate Coordinator. This option would require that a student become involved in research very early in the M.A. program. With the supervision of the advisor, the student would develop and execute an original empirical research project (quantitative or qualitative). The paper may be an extension of the student’s work in a graduate class at UNC, but at least 75% of the content must be new and not previously submitted as a course assignment.

The final written product must conform to Graduate School requirements for a thesis, and it will be read by a two-faculty member committee. This comprehensive project option must be approved by the two-faculty member committee using the Topic Approval Form. Students may register for a maximum of 6 credits of PSY 699 Thesis to complete the master's thesis comprehensive exam option.