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Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education

Education, Leadership and Policy Program

Comprehensive Requirement Guidelines


Doctoral degree programs in the Educational Leadership and Policy Program are meant to prepare students to draw on knowledge in policy, leadership, change, and 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 the key areas listed above. In addition, the faculty acknowledges that there are certain knowledge, 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 and to demonstrate how their knowledge and skills will contribute to their own research and practice.


We expect students to demonstrate their learning in each of seven areas that are essential in moving forward to the proposal writing and research stages of their program. We want to ensure that students have the knowledge, skills, and abilities commensurate with this stage in their academic journey.

The Comprehensive Examination probes students’ knowledge, skills, and abilities across seven key areas: 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.

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 for 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, understandings 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 your ability to produce scholarly work appropriate for disseminating in written and oral form, and your awareness of processes for communicating findings from inquiry. Examiners look to see if 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. 


ELP Comps graphic

  1. Comprehensive exams are scheduled three times per year in mid-to-late November, March and June. An email inviting students to apply to the exam is sent out by the Department approximately 8-10 weeks prior to the exam (i.e. in September, January and April). To indicate their intent to take the exam, students submit a form (included in said email), which is signed off on by the supervisor. This form is typically due to the Department 6 weeks prior to the examination period. Note that students preparing to take the exam begin working on their portfolios in consultation with faculty up to 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. 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 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 (about 10-15 pages) 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 portfolio should be made available to the examining committee at least two 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 superficial presentation quality.

    A few examples of portfolios are kept on file for students to review. Students wishing to review a copy should contact their departmental Liaison Officer. These examples should be considered general guides, rather than templates of practice.

    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 artifacts 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 Graduate Student Liaison Officer at least two weeks in advance of the examination date. The Liaison Officer will ensure that the examiners receive copies of the papers.

    Our program periodically offers workshops on how to prepare for the comprehensive exam.  Students are encouraged to attend one of these workshops or to watch the video from September 2018 workshop.


  1. There are two examiners in each comp exam. Neither examiner will be the student's advisor or supervisor.

    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.



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 fulfil the role.

A student is required to submit a draft of the comprehensive paper and portfolio to his/her advisor (or supervisor) before the comprehensive exam 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. It is not the role of the advisor to evaluate the work – that is left up to the examiners. (See “Preparation for the Exam” for more information.) 


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 summary of comments and their recommendation, which will be copied to the Chair, the Advisor/Supervisor, and the student.