Comprehensive Exams

Comprehensive exams are taken in November or May of PhD 3.


  • 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.
    • May 1 or November 1: Notify [at] of your intent to take the 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  


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