Comprehensive Exams

After the first year of study, Ph.D. students take a written comprehensive examination which tests foundational knowledge in statistical theory and methodology.  The examination is given over two days in August, shortly before the start of the second year of study, and consists of four sections, each corresponding to one of the required Ph.D. courses:

  1. The Statistical Inference section is a two-hour written exam covering material from PHST 762.
  2. The Linear Models section is a two-hour written exam covering material from PHST 781.
  3. The Bayesian Inference section consists of a 90-minute written part and 90-minute computing part, covering material from PHST 691.
  4. The Statistical Computing section is a three-hour computing exam, covering material from PHST 710.

Material from courses corresponding to each section of the comprehensive exam will help students prepare for those sections.  However, questions from any sources may appear that cover the same topics as listed in the syllabi of PHST 691, PHST 710, PHST 762, and PHST 781. Further, problems on the Computing section of the exam may draw on topics covered in PHST 691, PHST 710, PHST 762, and PHST 781. Links to comprehensive exams from prior years are provided below; these are also useful for exam preparation.

Each student receives a grade of either "pass" or "fail" for the entire comprehensive examination and each student must pass all four sections of the comprehensive examination to receive a "pass". Students that pass the exam will be eligible to enter doctoral candidacy upon completion of the remaining, second-year coursework. A failing grade indicates deficiency in one or more areas, and a student with a grade of "fail" will have one opportunity to retake the full comprehensive examination (all four sections), typically in the following January. Students that fail to pass the examination on their second attempt will be dismissed from the program without further consideration.

Consult the Ph.D. curriculum for additional details on the comprehensive exams.


Comprehensive Exams from Past Years

Exams from prior years can be accessed at the links below.  Note that policies governing the comprehensive exams have evolved over the years, so that (1) some parts of the current exam were not given in prior years, and (2) some parts given in prior years are no longer offered. Each of the exam files is password-protected.  There are two versions of exams in years in which two testing sessions took place.  Send an e-mail to to acquire a password.

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