Written Comprehensive Exam for Master Students
February 2003 (Based on PhD and MS CSE Comprehensive and Research Examinations guidelines)
As part of the requirements for the MS program, master students have two exclusive options: the thesis option and the comprehensive written exam option. Once a student has committed to an option, the student cannot change options. This document describes the comprehensive written exam option.
Written Comprehensive Exam
This exam will test students' knowledge of 'basic' computer science material. The exam is based on the Operating Systems, Computer Architecture, and Algorithms core graduate courses, together with suitable undergraduate material. A precise description of the material is given by the syllabus provided with this document.
The written comprehensive exam will be offered at least once every year. It will always be given in the first few weeks of the Fall quarter and usually in the first few weeks of the Spring quarter. If fewer than seven people sign up, then the department may cancel the examination in the spring quarter.
All MS students (including part-time and leave of absence) should complete their written examination requirement successfully within 2 years following the quarter in which they were admitted to the graduate program. Students are strongly encouraged to take the exam as soon as possible, and they are required to take it for the first time within one year following the quarter in which they were admitted. For example, students entering the graduate program in the Fall 2002, are encouraged to take the exam in Spring 2003, they are required to take the exam for the first time by Fall 2003, and they should complete the written comprehensive exam successfully by Fall 2004.
Students who have an incomplete background in computer science when they enter the graduate program may apply for a delay to the Graduate Committee. Delays will only be granted to students who have a large number of courses to make up.
Format of the Written Exam
The comprehensive exam will be given over a single day. Each core area (Operating Systems, Computer Architecture and Algorithms) will have a separate 90 minute written examination. However, a student's final grade will be based on the aggregate performance in all three exams. The comprehensive examination committee will announce the exact times well in advance of the examination.
When taking the exam, the student is required to take all sections that the student has not yet passed. In particular, the first time a student attempts the exam, the student is required to take all three sections: Operating Systems, Computer Architecture, and Algorithms.
The faculty till provide a syllabus of the material to be covered by the exam. They will use the ACM curriculum recommendations for an undergraduate computer science program as a guide in selecting the suitable undergraduate material, although they will not necessarily adhere rigidly to that program. The graduate part of the syllabus is based on the graduate core courses as given in the catalog. A detailed syllabus is provided separately.
The outcome of the written comprehensive examination will be one of the following:
- MS Pass - A student obtaining a Master pass will be eligible to receive an MS degree subject to fulfilling the other MS requirements
- Conditional MS Pass - A student may receive an MS pass conditional to fulfilling certain requirements, usually retaking the failed exam
- Fail - If the Fail grade is obtained, the student will be allowed to retake the exam subject to the time limits.
A note to students
In borderline cases, several other factors, in addition to performance on the written exam, may enter into the decision of a student's comprehensive exam pass level. Likely additional factors are: performance in courses, research activities, recommendations of faculty members.
Exam access and regrades
A student has two ways to see his/her exams.
One, the student can look over the exams in the Graduate Coordinator's office. In this case, if the student finds egregious grading errors (e.g., the key part of a question was overlooked) that would seem to change the outcome of the faculty's decision, a regrade may be requested. The student must be aware, however, that the faculty's decision is based on the above cited criteria as well as the exam, so a change in exam grade does not guarantee a change in the faculty's decision.
Two, the student can take the exams into his/her permanent possession. In this case, the student surrenders all rights to request a regrade.
Guidelines for Grading Comprehensive Exams
The representatives for each area will be responsible for having the corresponding area exams graded. The grading of area exams shall be done anonymously. Names of students will not be revealed to any faculty until the faculty meeting to discuss exam scores. Each exam is assigned a numerical grade from 0 to 10. The representative should decide on a tentative cut-off score for Master level pass. The cut-offs will be used unless the faculty votes to change them.
A student's final grade for the comprehensive exam will normally be
- MS Pass for students receiving scores above the cut-offs in all three areas.
- Conditional MS Pass for student not qualifying for a Master pass who receive scores above the cut-offs in at least two of the three areas. The usual recourse will be to retake the failed exam to obtain a Master pass.
- Fail for student getting scores below the cut-offs in two or more areas. Students failing the exam will have to retake the entire exam, subject to the time limits.
However, the faculty can vote to change a student's grade or the penalty attached to a student's conditional MS pass. In making the above changes, the faculty may take into account the numerical scores and rank on this and previous comprehensive exams, past performance of the student in course work and research, and any special circumstances affecting the student's progress in the program.