Sociology & Anthropology
Department Policies

Comprehensive Examinations


The sociology and anthropology faculty are committed to the idea that the comprehensive examination in our respective fields of study should:

  • be a constructive learning experience in itself.
  • enhance the integration of course work and disciplinary perspectives.
  • foster cross-disciplinary integration - emphasizing similarities and differences between sociology or anthropology and other disciplines in the liberal arts.
  • provide feedback to the department on what our majors know or do not know.
  • provide a final check on overall mastery of material by graduating majors.

Please note that the sociology and anthropology department feels that the first four objectives are especially important; the department does not consider comprehensives to be primarily for purposes of quality control and that the faculty are therefore pitted against the students. Quality control has already been done at the door of each classroom. If you have passed your courses, work with us to gain perspective on the discipline of sociology or anthropology within the liberal arts, and come to the exam having given thoughtful consideration to the integrative study questions provided in advance, you will do fine. In fact, we hope you will enjoy the experience as an opportunity to show us what you know and to pull together the strands of your curriculum into a coherent whole.

Comprehensive examinations in sociology or anthropology are designed to help you step back and look at the discipline as a whole, to see the larger picture and not just the individual courses. They are not intended to retest you on every small piece of information you have learned, but to see if you can apply the discipline's perspectives, use analysis skills in sociology or anthropology, pull together and synthesize insights from diverse aspects of the discipline, and use anthropological or sociological information and perspectives to make evaluations about social policies, cultural values, and/or social relationships. By the time you have completed your course work and are half way through the senior seminar, we are confident that you will be able to demonstrate these intellectual abilities successfully.


We will provide you with a study guide in early November of your senior year. The examination itself will occur in the winter term, probably in February. We reserve the right to change the examination in order to improve it. However, as currently structured, the comprehensives work like this:

Sociology Majors:
The first half of the Sociology Senior Seminar, also taken winter term, will be geared to helping you gain perspective on the sociology curriculum as a whole and to practice intradisciplinary and interdisciplinary integration.

The comprehensive examination in sociology consists of three integrative essay questions that require application, analysis, and synthesis of sociological perspectives and skills. The three essays are selected from the study guide questions which you will have had in advance. Some years we will also include the sociology area test produced by the Educational Testing Service and given by colleges and universities around the country.

Cultural Anthropology Majors:
1. A take home portion of the examination. The assignment will be given in the study guide.
2. An in-class essay examination focusing on major theories, methods, areas, and topics in anthropology. Three essays are selected from the study guide questions which you will have had in advance.
3. A discussion (to be scheduled after the written component is completed) with at least two representatives from anthropology. This oral examination will focus on-but not necessarily be limited to-the material essays written in parts 1 and 2.


Each essay in our local portion of the exam is graded blind; that is, we do not know whose paper we are reading until all papers are graded and scores assigned. This is the fairest way to ensure absolute equity in the treatment of each student's examination. Normally, each essay is read and scored by at least two faculty members. If the score varies by more than a few points, the readers re-read the paper. If a discrepancy still exists, a third faculty member is asked to read the essay. Such cases are rare, but students should rest assured that every effort is made to ensure fairness in grading the comprehensive examinations. In no case will a student's entire examination be graded by a single evaluator.

The Sociology Area Examination of the Educational Testing Service is a multiple-choice examination graded by the ETS. There is really not a lot of studying one can do for this test other than a bit of review of an introductory sociology text for familiarity with sociological terminology, and reviewing your notes from social theory and research methods. We think you will do exceptionally well on this test even with a minimum of preparation. Scores for the ETS examination are reported to the department about a month after the test is taken and will be reported to you almost immediately after we receive them.

Departmental Policies Governing Comprehensive Examinations

  1. To graduate with a major in sociology or cultural anthropology students must pass the comprehensive examination. We believe that comprehensive examinations are valuable, but we do not consider quality control to be the primary purpose. Therefore, we consider a score in the "D" range to be "passing." However, grades for the comprehensive will appear on the transcript and will be averaged into the GPA for the major with the weight of one course grade. To graduate, you must have a GPA in the major of 2.0 or higher, as well as an overall GPA of 2.0 or higher. Further, you cannot graduate with more than two Ds in the major, including the comprehensive examination and required cognate courses (e.g. Applied Statistics). If you already have two Ds in courses that are part of the requirements for the major, then you MUST have at least a "C" on the comprehensive.
  2. In order to qualify for graduation with honors in sociology or cultural anthropology, students must earn at least an A- on the comprehensive examination. The grade qualifying a student for honors in the major shall be based on the first score achieved. (In other words, the department will not allow retakes of the comprehensives solely for the purpose of trying to qualify for departmental honors.)
  3. No student will be allowed to achieve a grade higher than a "B-" on a second or third attempt at the comprehensive-regardless of whether it is redone later that term or the following term-unless there are extraordinary circumstances that the department as a whole feels are sufficient for this rule to be waved.