Comp. Exams


The comprehensive exam is required as part of the graduate program in sociology.  It is the culmination of the first year of coursework and is based primarily on the material covered in the two research methods courses and the social theory course.  Students must pass the comprehensive exam to be eligible for an MA in sociology from Lehigh.


The exam is given every year on the first Monday in May and the second Monday in September. Because of the nature of the exam, alternate or make-up dates cannot be scheduled; students should mark these dates on their calendar.  The exam is administered through a special online Coursesite entitled “Comprehensive Exam.”  Test questions will be made available online no later than 9:00am on the test date, and students must turn in their responses no later than 5:00 pm the same day.  Students who may require additional time because of language barriers or learning disability should speak to the Graduate Director ahead of time.  Students who fail the exam may, at the discretion of the Graduate Director, be permitted one opportunity to re-take the test, but they must wait until the next exam date to do so.  No student may take the exam more than twice under any circumstances; a student who fails the exam twice is no longer eligible to receive a degree.

The exam operates on an honor system; students may consult notes and reference materials but may not consult any other person—including other students—while taking the exam.  Students should make proper citation to source material in their answers, where appropriate.  The exam consists of three questions.  Two of the questions will be drawn from the list of sample questions provided in advance.  The third question will be a new one that students have not seen before.

The exam questions are designed to test a student’s professional competence in sociological theory and methods.  Answering the questions successfully requires students to take abstract ideas and apply them to concrete, and often contemporary, questions.  Answers will be judged on the following criteria:

  • Creative engagement with each question
  • Ability to construct sophisticated, logically sound, sociological arguments
  • Ability to generate falsifiable hypotheses and design sound methods to test such hypotheses
  • Ability to identify and discuss the limitations of different research methods
  • Completeness of answer to each question
  • Professionalism of writing



Exams are graded by all sociology faculty in the department.  Student names do not appear on the exams, so faculty readers do not know which exams are written by whom.