Comprehensive Exams

Prior to program completion, you must sign up for the written Comprehensive Examination. You complete the Examination toward the end of your program, after you have completed all of the required courses. The Examination is based on your course of study, including transfer courses, and will address general themes, trends, and issues presented in your coursework and internship. The questions will be fairly broad in nature, but require substantiation from the literature.

What is the Comprehensive Examination?

The Comprehensive Examination is a four-hour written examination required of all Master's degree candidates. It is closed book. The Examination may cover any course work completed by the student.

When are the Examinations given?

The Examinations are scheduled during each quarter. They are held on a Saturday, at approximately mid-point of the quarter, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

How do I sign up for the Examination?

Students register for the Examination by calling the Administrative Assistant at (206) 296-6170. You should register at least ten weeks before the Examination. Those registered to take the Examination will be notified of the Examination site, time, and date. An orientation meeting is held prior to each Examination scheduled.

What does the Examination include?

The Examination consists of essay questions based on each student's course of study. The questions are designed to provide an opportunity for synthesis and integration of learning across course boundaries. Thus, an appropriate answer to any given question should draw upon multiple courses and various learning experiences including graduate projects, independent studies, and internship experiences.

Each student will receive two sets of questions: one set, which includes two questions, will focus on the general requirements for all students receiving a Master's degree from the TESOL and Adult Education programs. The other set, which includes five questions, will focus on the student's areas of specialization, which refers to TESOL for students in the TESOL program. The student must select one question from the first set and three questions from the second set, completing a total of four questions. Thus, approximately one hour is allowed for developing a response to each question.

How do I prepare for the Examination?

Because the questions are general in nature, a general review of courses is appropriate. You will want to look for major themes, trends, and key writers. In addition, you will want to be familiar with processes and procedures like course planning, development, and evaluation. We also recommend that you practice writing for an hour (or more) to build stamina for the Examination.

Faculty support for preparation

Students are invited to an Examination orientation session about six weeks before the Examination. You will be provided with an overview of the Examination, a sample question, and will be given an opportunity to form study groups with other students who will be taking the Examination.

Faculty are instructed not to discuss the Comprehensive Examination content or preparation with students within two weeks prior to the Examination date.

What happens during the Examination?

Upon arrival at the Examination, each student will receive a test packet that includes directions, questions, and scratch paper. Those completing the Examination on computer will be assigned to a computer. Those completing the Examination in writing will receive a set of blue books. Packets and blue books are numbered so that Examination readers will not know the name of the student completing the Examination.

The Examination is closed book; dictionaries are available. The Examination is timed; all work must be completed within the four-hour limit.

How are the Examination evaluated?

Each Examination is read by at least two readers who are familiar with course content and the field of study. The readers do not know the identity of the student because the packets are identified with numbers, not names.

The responses are evaluated on the following elements.

  • the responses are accurate, concise, and clear;

  • the response completely answers all parts of the question;

  • the responses are appropriate for graduate level writing - grammar, punctuation, organization of content;

  • the responses indicate a broad and comprehensive knowledge of the major field;

  • the responses are well documented with relevant references to significant literature in the field.

Each reader uses a scale of one to four, with one equaling "Does not meet" and four equaling "Fully meets." If both readers agree that the Examination is satisfactory, the student will be notified in writing by the Dean of the College of Education that the Comprehensive Examination requirement has been met.

What if the Examination is not satisfactory?

If both readers agree that one or more responses in the Examination are unsatisfactory, the student will be asked to rewrite all or part of the Examination. The student will be notified by the Program Director.

The re-write examination will be made up of new questions that focus on similar content to the initial questions that were inadequately answered. If a student does not attempt to answer a question, the new question will be one that is appropriate for that segment of the Examination. No choice of questions will be provided.

Students should schedule the re-write within one month of the first Examination through the Program Coordinator. Students who complete their rewrite less than one week before the end of the quarter will have the Examination read within the first two weeks of the subsequent quarter. If a student fails to complete satisfactorily the re-write process within three months of the original Examination date, he/she shall be required to sit for a completely new Examination at the next regularly scheduled examination date.

Re-writes will be reviewed using the above standards.

A third and final writing may be requested if the second writing is deemed unsatisfactory. If a third writing is required, students must submit a formal plan of study and spend at least one quarter in preparation for the Examination. Those who do not successfully complete the examination shall be dropped from the program.

The student is notified of successful completion of the Comprehensive Examination by the Dean of the College of Education. The Examination questions, responses and results become a permanent part of the student file.


Decisions regarding completion of the Comprehensive Examination are not subject to grievance or fair process review.

Special accommodations

Students who request special accommodation and who are appropriately determined to require such accommodation shall be accommodated. The nature of the accommodation will vary with the needs of the student. Students who seek accommodation should contact Seattle University's Disability Services Office at (206)296-5740.