Comprehensive Exams

Comprehensives are taken in May or November.


  • End of your first year: Outline a schedule to prepare for exams with your supervisor.
  • Six months before semester in which comprehensives will be taken: Submit your special research area to the Area.
  • Semester before comprehensives: 
    • Notify [at] of your intent to take the exams next semester by:
      • May 1 for November exams  
      • November 1 for May exams
    • Supervisors submit committee membership list to [at] by:
      • May 15 for November exams
      • November 15 for May exams
  • Two months before comprehensives: 
    • Submit a 6-7 page introduction to your research area, including an in-depth bibliography that will serve as the backdrop for the thesis review of related literature, to the committee.
    • Submit your presentation topic to the Area for approval.

Written Exams

3 papers are written over a two-month period, typically from the start of the semester. Questions are based on your research bibliography, general discipline bibliographies provided by the Area, and your background (including seminars taken at McGill). Papers 1 and 2 are 15 pages, double-spaced.

  • Paper 1: 2 - 3 questions on research methodology in music education.
  • Paper 2: 2 - 3 questions on methodological, historical, and philosophical foundations in music education.
  • Paper 3: A review of literature closely related to your area of research.  Work on this paper may begin before the formal comprehensive exam period.

Oral Exam

  • When: Approximately one month after the written exams are submitted.
  • Part 1: 30 minute public lecture presenting a specific position and cogent argument on a current issue or topic in Music Education, followed by 30 minutes of questions by the committee and public.
  • Part 2: 30-60 minutes of questions on the written exam in private session.


Begin preparing as early as possible, using placement exam results to determine where to put special effort.

Preparation should include:

  • Weekly meetings with supervisors.
  • Extensive reading from an Area-provided bibliography, focusing on topics in which you are not well versed.
  • Preparing mock presentations and responding to questions.
  • Writing sample questions and answers.
  • Collaborating with other Area students who have completed, or are preparing for, their comprehensives.


  • Three full-time staff members from the student's area of specialization
  • One member from a different area within the Department
  • The Associate Dean of Graduate Studies in Music, or an appointed representative, serves as Chair.



Keys to Success

"Starting early...being curious...allowing yourself the freedom to reflect deeply"
-Elinor Frey, DMus '12