Exams in Lieu of Courses

Comprehensive exams (“comps”) are cumulative final exams offered in some COMS courses (or jointly offered courses like CSOR, CSEE) primarily as an alternative to taking the corresponding course, and are intended for students who have already obtained the appropriate background and expertise, while enrolled in a prior Columbia program or at another institution, and/or feel confident in their ability to self-study the requisite material. Exams may also be taken by students who have completed the corresponding course with less than a “doctoral pass” (B+) grade, or are taking the course concurrently.

Signup sheets for exams are normally made available through the Doctoral Program Administrator approximately six (6) weeks prior to exam administration, and students must normally sign up for all exams they intend to take at least four (4) weeks prior to the exams. Failure to show up for an exam, or leaving the exam without completion, is deemed de facto failure, unless the student presents acceptable evidence of illness or emergency to the PhD Chair. No “makeups” are offered, but the student may take the course or exam in a later semester.

The comprehensive exam is the same as the final exam for the course and  its administration is co-timed with that final exam. Each individual instructor can decide whether or not to offer a cumulative final exam for doctoral students. Doctoral students who are not enrolled in the course can take the cumulative final and count that toward their course requirements if they pass with a B+ or better. The exam must be a cumulative exam covering material from the entire course, not just the last half of the course since the midterm, and in no case may be less than one hour.   Alternative structures such as project, team, oral, take-home, extended duration, etc. must be approved at least six weeks in advance by the full faculty on petition of the relevant area faculty. Other details such as pretesting, blind grading, open vs. closed book, etc., are at the discretion of the area faculty.

A regular faculty member (in the department or formally affiliated) must be designated as responsible for each comprehensive exam.  The designated faculty member may optionally delegate to an adjunct (but not a student) the duties of preparing the syllabus, exam and grading scheme, but retains ultimate responsibility for adhering to the above rules.

If a student passes both the regular course and that course’s comp exam, the course is only counted once towards the required ten courses.  Multiple sections of the same course may offer comp exams during the same semester, but students are permitted to sit for only one of the exams and enroll in only one of the course sections; similarly, the course still counts only once for students who repeat the same course and/or exam different semesters.

Page Split off from Breadth Requirement Administration on April 19, 2022. Last updated May 25, 2022.