Comprehensive Exams

Comprehensive exams are taken in May or November.


  • End of your first year: Finalize dissertation field with your supervisor.
  • Semester before comprehensives: 
    • Develop a comprehensive dissertation bibliography in consultation with committee members to be finalized 5 months before the written exam date.
    • Notify [at] of your intent to take the exams next semester by:
      • May 1 for November exams
      • November 1 for May exams 

Written Exam

  • Consists of questions exploring the historical, practical and theoretical aspects of the proposed dissertation research topic.  Questions are intended to develop a broad, multidisciplinary perspective on your topic and answers could form the basis for the background portions (i.e., related literature) of the PhD dissertation. 
  • The exam is written over a three month period, from the start of the semester.  Anticipated length for each question is 5-20 pages (typed, double-spaced, 11-pt); total: 40-60 pages (not including References).

Oral Exam

  • Duration: Two to three hours.
  • Timeline: Typically takes place two weeks after the written examination.
  • Scope: Opportunity to elaborate, correct and enhance essay answers through questions posed by the committee. Other questions based on related topics may assess breadth of domain-specific knowledge.


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

Preparation should include:

  • Weekly meetings with supervisors
  • Preparing and defending mock questions
  • Collaborating with other Area students who have completed, or are preparing for, their comprehensives.


The Examination Committee consists of:

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


Music Technology Area website  



Keys to, write, scratch and rethink...and when you're finished you'll find the results extremely enlightening."
-Ivan de Ameida Soares Franco, Ph.D. student