Pre 2023 Comprehensive Requirement Guidelines (ELP)

Please note: These guidelines were revised in 2023. Students entering in fall 2023 and later should refer to the new ELP comprehensive exam guidelines. Students who entered before fall 2023 may opt into either these guidelines or the new comprehensive exam guidelines. (Students must select one or the other full set of guidelines; they may not design a hybrid exam that combines aspects of the old and new guidelines.)


Doctoral degree programs in the Educational Leadership & Policy program are meant to prepare students to draw on knowledge in policy, leadership, change, and/or social diversity to contribute to theory and practice in the field of educational leadership and policy.

Coursework introduces students to basic knowledge and fundamental debates in these key areas. In addition, the faculty acknowledge that there are certain knowledges, skills, and abilities we wish our students to have by the time they are ready to begin their doctoral research.

The comprehensive examination is the student’s opportunity to reflect on what they have learned during their time in the doctoral program thus far and to demonstrate how their knowledge and skills will contribute to their own research and practice.

Knowledge, Skills, & Abilities

We expect students to demonstrate their learning in each of the seven areas that are essential in moving forward to the proposal writing and research stages of their program: research design, conducting research, analyzing data, communicating research results, knowledge of the broader field of educational leadership and policy, knowledge of major theoretical frameworks in the field, and synthesizing existing literature. We want to ensure that students have the knowledge, skills, and abilities commensurate with this stage in their academic journey.

Research design (e.g. identification of research problems, understanding how to match appropriate research methodology to research questions, sampling, framing research concepts). This dimension focuses on students' ability to utilize scholarship in identifying and articulating social problems that can stimulate research, understand the relationship between problems and research designs, and be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of various potential designs for given problems. The examiners will look at the degree to which the student is able to focus on research problems and discuss them within relevant literature, and look for evidence that the design is informed by theory, methodological clarity, and conceptually plausible, with understanding of how to approach addressing research problems.

Conducting research (e.g. conducting interviews, administering questionnaires, doing archival research). This dimension focuses on carrying out a research design, familiarity with a range of research techniques, knowledge of how to employ these techniques appropriately, and an appreciation for the ways in which these techniques generate particular kinds of data. The examiners will look to see if the student has an adequate appreciation of the execution of a research design, and appropriate knowledge of methodological approaches and data collection strategies.

Analyzing data (e.g. statistical analysis, coding interview data, discourse analysis). This dimension focuses on familiarity with multiple approaches to treating data and the ability to recognize the epistemological limitations of these various approaches, as well as the ways in which data may be used to help address original research problems. Students are expected to demonstrate a satisfactory grasp of multiple analytic techniques for treating data, and emergent understanding of epistemological considerations for advancing claims to knowledge from alternative analyses.

Communicating research results (e.g. conference presentations, scholarly articles, technical reports). This dimension focuses on students’ ability to produce scholarly work appropriate for disseminating in written and oral form, and awareness of processes for communicating findings from inquiry. Examiners look to see if the work is organized, coherent, logically developed, and understandable. Most student work is appropriate for the purposes of communicating and disseminating scholarship.

Knowledge of the broader field of educational leadership and policy (e.g. past and current approaches to leadership, policy and organizations). This dimension focuses on knowledge of various current themes and established traditions in the field of educational leadership and policy and understandings of how these trends contribute in distinct ways to contemporary scholarly inquiry in the field. Students need to be able to show that perspectives are anchored in existing understandings from the broader field of educational leadership and policy and that connections between and among the field’s scholarly concerns are evident.

Knowledge of major theoretical frameworks in the field (e.g. application of social theories to education; understanding of the nature of the educational enterprise). This dimension focuses on understandings of the meaning and significance of theory, and how theoretical concerns from the field, as well as social theory generally, inform the ways in which administrative and social knowledge is generated. Students need to demonstrate how their understandings are informed by theory, and scholarly work is framed using theoretical perspectives from the field and social theory generally.

Synthesizing existing literature (e.g. how to select literature that defines the scope of a field; using existing literature to support a particular argument or point of view). This dimension focuses on the ability to critically review, synthesize and utilize a wide range of scholarly literature to provide a coherent and focused account of a specific scholarly area, as well as an appreciation for how this account can support related scholarly inquiry. The examiners will look to see the extent to which students present an appropriate and defensible selection of mostly relevant literature utilized in framing scholarly discussions and supporting scholarly positions. 

Preparing for the Exam


1.  Comprehensive exams are scheduled three times per year in mid-to-late November, March and June. For EdD cohorts, special comprehensive exam sessions are scheduled (in September for the ELP cohort and in May for the IELP cohort). An email inviting students to apply to the exam is sent out by the Department approximately 8-10 weeks prior to the exam. To indicate their intent and readiness to take the exam, students submit a comprehensive exam request form (included in said email), which is signed off on by the advisor (or supervisor, if they are working with one.) This form, along with the complete comps portfolio, is typically due to the Department 4 weeks prior to the examination period. Note that students preparing to take the exam typically begin working on their portfolios in consultation with faculty about 6 months prior to the examination period.

2.  Students must meet with their advisor (or supervisor, if they are working with one) to discuss the comprehensive exam about 6 months prior to their anticipated examination period. To ensure that students are fairly supported during the process our preferred approach is that students have two meetings with their advisor or supervisor.  In the first meeting, the student and advisor will discuss the purpose of the exam and the process of putting together the portfolio. At a second meeting, after the student has assembled the portfolio, the advisor/supervisor will review the portfolio, provide feedback and recommendations for revision, and indicate what needs to change before s/he will sign the paperwork to allow the student to schedule the exam. The limited two meeting format communicates a program expectation: Students are expected  to display the independence and problem solving skills that are crucial for successful completion of a doctoral degree.

3.  Students will be asked to produce two separate but related products: an original paper demonstrating their knowledge of one of the four strands of the Educational Leadership & Policy Program and a portfolio that demonstrates their developing skills in the key areas listed above. The comprehensive paper is expected to be between 6,000 - 10,000 words in length.

The portfolio should be made available to the examining committee at least four weeks prior to the exam date. It is important that the student focus on the content of the portfolio and the comp paper, and not be distracted by presentation issues. The materials do NOT need to be in colour, or desktop published, or bound professionally. The examiners will be interested in what the student has to say, and not with the presentation quality.

The topic for the paper should be determined in consultation with the student’s advisor or supervisor. This paper should in large part demonstrate the student’s ability to synthesize the literature. The paper should be written in an acceptable scholarly style. The paper is not a public document and will only be given to members of the examining committee. The paper must be substantially new work, not a re-tread of a course paper.

4.  The portfolio should include 5 original artifacts written by the student that demonstrate that the student has developed knowledge, skills, and abilities in the key areas listed above over the course of their doctoral journey. The artifacts are opportunities for students to illustrate and discuss the skills listed above.  These may include but are not limited to the following:

  • Documentation from a research project a course paper or other artifact that shows application of research to a practical problem or issue
  • An original research proposal
  • A technical report
  • A policy paper
  • A conference proposal
  • A paper or other artifact presented for an audience of peers
  • An annotated bibliography
  • An evaluation or assessment report
  • An instructional unit

    **A curriculum vitae (CV), and major research papers and theses from a master’s program are not acceptable artifacts for the doctoral portfolio. The purpose of the portfolio is to demonstrate how your learning has developed during your progress through the doctoral program.

5.  A brief introduction and a reflection that explains (not simply asserts) the value of the particular artifact in demonstrating the student’s knowledge, skills, and abilities should accompany each artifact in the portfolio. The reflections are an opportunity to display what was learned and how it was learned.

The reflection should put each artifact in context, to provide insights into the value of the learning gained by this artifact. In the case of a co-authored product, the student should clarify her/his contribution to the process in her/his reflection. Reflections should not exceed 3 pages in length.

6.  Students will be responsible for ensuring copies of their papers are submitted to the Program Assistants at least three weeks in advance of the examination date. The Pas will ensure that the examiners receive copies of the papers.

Our program periodically offers workshops on how to prepare for the comprehensive exam. Exact dates will be emailed to all students in ELP once they have been determined for that year. Students are encouraged to attend one of these workshops or to watch the video from September 2018 workshop.




PhD students

(full-time and flex-time)

PhD students

(full-time and flex-time)

PhD students

(full-time and flex-time)

ELP EdD Cohort IELP EdD Cohort
Processes November Comps March Comps June Comps September Comps May Comps
First meeting with advisor/supervisor to discuss process for exam Late April/early May
Late August/early

Late November/early 

Late February/early March Early November
Prepare first draft of full portfolio (including original comps paper, 5 artifacts and reflections) over 3-month period Early May until late July (3-month period) Early September until late November (3-month period) Early December until late February (3-month period) Early March until late May (3-month period) Early November until late January (3-month period)
Submit first draft of full portfolio to advisor/supervisor (2-3 weeks before second meeting) Late July Late November Late February Late May Late January/early February
Second meeting with advisor/supervisor to discuss feedback on first draft of portfolio and assign revisions Mid-August Mid-December Mid-March Mid-June Mid-to-late February
Revise portfolio based on feedback of advisor/supervisor August-September December-January March-April June-July February-March
Email invite sent out to students wishing to sign up for a comprehensive exam (8-10 weeks before exam date) Early-to-mid-September Early-to-mid-
Early-to-mid-July Mid to late March
Submit final revised portfolio to advisor/supervisor Late September Late January Late April Late July Early April
If revisions are satisfactory, advisor/supervisor approves portfolio and signs nomination form. Student submits
nomination form and portfolio to program assistants (due 4 weeks before exam date)
Mid-October Mid-February Mid-May Mid August Late April/early May
Exam date scheduled and students notified of date (3 weeks before the exam date) Late October/early November Late February/early March Late May/early June Late August/early September Early to mid-May
Comprehensive exam Mid-to-late November Mid-to-late March Mid-to-late
Mid-to-late September Late May/early June
Program assistants obtain signatures for paperwork After exam After exam After exam After exam After exam
Paperwork submitted to the Registrar's Office and Student Experience (ROSE) and comp completion
recorded on ROSI
After exam After exam After exam After exam After exam

Day of the Exam

  1. There are two examiners in each comp exam. Neither examiner will be the student's advisor or supervisor. The exam is recorded and the audio file is saved in the student’s private and confidential departmental file.

    On the day of the examination students will make a short presentation of their portfolio and respond to questions from the examination committee. Presentations are to be no more than 15 minute long. The presentation should communicate your educational journey and progress through the doctoral program. A march through the portfolio to recap the artifacts is not the best use of presentation time.

    The total examination will last no more than 1.5 hours. The examining committee may ask questions arising from the portfolio and/or the paper. Students should expect to be examined on any or all of the artifacts, but questions will also include awareness of the broader field. The examinations will not be public.

    The point of the oral exam is to engage the student in discussions about issues in the field; to this end, students are requested to NOT put their efforts into PowerPoint presentations or other materials, but focus on the content of their work, and the understandings they have developed as a result of their studies.

  2. There are two possible outcomes of the examination: a) the student passes, which means she/he has demonstrated knowledge, skills, and abilities in all of the seven areas outlined above; or b) the student fails, which means that she/he has not demonstrated knowledge, skills, and abilities in two or more areas. In the case of failure, students are allowed one retake of the comprehensive examination.
  3. Students will be informed of their status (pass or fail) at the end of the exam. Examiners will submit a written report on the comprehensive to the Department Chair, with copies to the student and supervisor/advisor, in a timely fashion (generally by the following day).
  4. Students who are not successful in their first attempt will be given written feedback to enable them to revise and resubmit their portfolio and paper for examination. Students wishing to re-sit the exam will be expected to enrol for the exam at the next possible time in the schedule, usually within six months of the first attempt. Students who are not successful a second time will not be allowed to continue in the program. Students can appeal the decision of the examiners by following the standard appeal process.

Role of Advisor or Supervisor

The student should discuss with their advisor the outline of their paper and portfolio early on in the process. If the student has already selected a supervisor, this person can fulfill the role.

A student is required to submit complete final version of the comprehensive paper and portfolio to his/her advisor (or supervisor) before the comprehensive exam request form can be signed off on and a date can be confirmed. The role of the advisor is to ensure that the various parts of the portfolio are included and to advise on any improvements that seem appropriate in order to be examinable. It is not the role of the advisor to evaluate the work – that is left up to the examiners.

Role of the Examiners

The examiners review the portfolio and the paper, observe the presentation, and discuss the work with the student. The evaluation of the student is based on all three of these elements. Consistent with the practices of academic peer review and critique, examiners respond to the material before them.

The questions asked in one exam will not be identical to the questions asked in another. The examiners will assess the student’s ability in the seven areas specified in the comprehensive exam description. Following the exam, the examiners will give the student feedback directly, and write a brief summary of comments and their recommendation, which will be copied to the Chair, the Advisor/Supervisor, and the student.