Comprehensive Exams and Thesis

Comprehensive Exams

1. Comprehensive exams (comps) are required in two fields, with 1 to 3 written essays
(take---home essays) in each field and an oral defense. Fields in which our students generally
take exams include Latin American Studies as well as anthropology, art, Chicana/o and
Latina/o Studies, education, history, literature/Spanish, music, political science, sociology,
and women, genders, and sexuality studies.

2. LAS graduate students planning on taking the comprehensive exams should form a
committee of two CalStateLA faculty members. Students should work closely with these
faculty members during their classwork and, when available, take a 5000 level seminar
in their chosen areas of study.

3. Students may take the comprehensive exams during the last semester in which they are
enrolled in classes or after they complete all coursework in their program. It is
recommended that students take the comprehensive exams as soon after finishing their
coursework as possible. Exams are offered in the fall and spring semesters.

4. Students need to submit the COMPS form to the Director with the appropriate
signatures by the end of week one of the semester in which they will take their exams.
The Director will issue a permit to register for LAS 5960 once s/he receives the completed
form. Students will then register for LAS 5960 no later than the campus add deadline.

5. Each faculty member in the committee will design a set of questions (usually 1---3) and
help students develop a comprehensive reading list (usually between 8---10 books).
Students should have their questions and reading list for each field by the end of week
two in which they plan to take the exams.

6. Students are encouraged to work closely with each faculty member during the
semester in which they take their exams (if not before) and must solicit and respond to
faculty feedback. Students cannot contact their examiners after Monday of week
11 of the semester in which they are taking the exams.

7. For each field, the exam will usually consist of 15---20 typed, double---spaced pages
(although the length and format may change according to the discipline) and should
include a clear system of citation and a bibliography. Students are encouraged to edit
their papers carefully, as final copies should be as polished as possible.

8. Students have until 5:00 P.M on the Wednesday of week 14 of the semester to
submit answers via email ( or hard copy (typed) to the Latin
American Studies office (KH B3006).

9. If students are unable to finish the exams on time, they need to drop LAS 5960 before
the campus drop deadline and immediately inform the Director.

10. The written exams are followed by an oral examination, usually in week 15 of the
semester or during final examinations week. The Program Director will schedule the
date and time of the oral exam. During the oral exam, each faculty member on the
student’s committee will ask questions based on the student’s written responses (including
follow-up questions). Students are encouraged to find ways to bridge the two subject areas
on which they are tested by identifying parallels or intersections among the areas.
11. If a student fails any either of the two field exams, s/he will retake only the field(s)

failed.* Students may take the comprehensive exams up to two more times if they do not
pass on their first attempt.

 Comprehensive Exam Form


Requirements for the Thesis

Theses are ideal for students who have developed research topics and want more experience doing research and writing. Before students can begin the thesis, they need to have completed at least 12 semester units of their required and elective courses in the graduate program and they need to have been advanced to candidacy. Students will identify three faculty members who are willing to serve on the thesis committee. These faculty members must review and approve the thesis proposal before a student can begin doing research and writing the thesis. While writing the thesis, students must complete at least 3 semester units of LAS 5990. In addition, students must be enrolled in the university during the semester in which they submit their finalized theses. During the semester in which the student submits the final thesis, students will do an oral defense of the thesis before the members of the thesis committee

Thesis Topics

The first step is to choose a research topic. A thesis is supposed to represent an original contribution to scholarship in your area of research. Students should develop a thesis topic in consultation with the LAS graduate advisor or a LAS faculty member. The campus library has a collection of all theses completed if you want to see what kinds of research our students have done and what a thesis looks like. Most students have multiple research interests, so deciding which to pursue can be difficult. A review of the published literature on the topic can help you understand what scholars have already done so that you can think about how you can contribute to knowledge production in this area. Your topic should also be something that is financially feasible and for which there are faculty on campus willing to support you.

Thesis Committees

Theses require a committee of three faculty members who will mentor the student and evaluate the quality of the thesis, with one faculty member serving as the chair. Committee members should be members of the CSULA faculty with expertise in the student’s area of research, although in appropriate cases qualified scholars from off campus may serve on thesis committees.  Once the student has formed a committee of three faculty members who have approved the thesis proposal, the student can submit the GS-12 form (available at this link from the Office of Graduate Studies website; This form must be signed by committee members and will include the title and an abstract of the thesis.

Thesis Proposals

The thesis proposal is a vital part of the process of writing a thesis. In writing the proposal, the student fully develops the thesis question, methods of research, and preliminary literature review. If students begin a thesis without having these elements fully developed, it can be difficult to finish or to do well. The thesis proposal should be in the range of 8-10 pages double-spaced. It should clearly explain the thesis topic or question, why it is important to pursue, the methods the student will use, and how the research relates to the literature already published on this or related topics. Usually, the proposal is developed with the help of the thesis committee chair.

The thesis proposal should contain the following elements, though each proposal may be different in format and tone:

  • An introduction to the topic of the intended research with a statement of the problem and the goals of the research.
  • A section that provides the background necessary to demonstrate your knowledge and ability to undertake this research, as well as the information your reader will need to fully appreciate the research question.
  • A section that reviews the key published works on this topic or closely related topics so that you can demonstrate your mastery of the scholarly or theoretical debates. In this section, you need to situate your own research in relation to what others have done or are doing by articulating the linkages between your project and the larger questions in the literature.
  • A methodology section that spells out the student’s plan for research, including the research strategies or methods that will be used and a proposed schedule or calendar for research and writing.
  • References, including all the resources used in the writing of the proposal as well as other that may be used in the thesis itself. The student should consult with members of the thesis committee to choose an appropriate formatting style.

Funding your Research

There are few options available for funding research at the M.A. level; however, students should pursue funding, especially if your research involves travel. The campus Office of Graduate Studies can provide some funding for students and can help students identify and apply for off-campus funding.

Harvard University maintains an up-to-date and searchable database of grants for graduate study. Although the majority are for doctoral level research, the database does allow you to filter for those grants where “stage is not specified, may include masters students”;

Doing Research with Human Subjects

Students planning on doing interviews or surveys of people, or other forms of research with human subjects, may need to apply for permission from the university before proceeding. The campus Institutional Review Board-Research with Human Subjects (IRB) is meant to protect the subjects of research from potential abuse and to protect researchers from legal liability during research. Students doing certain kinds of oral history interviews may be exempt. Your faculty advisor or the chair of your thesis committee can help you through this process. Applying for and getting approval to do research with human subjects can take 3 months or longer, so students need to begin this process with sufficient time to obtain approval before beginning research. For more information, see the website for the IRB at

Writing the Thesis

It can be difficult for students to complete the thesis when they do not have the structure and deadlines of a formal class. Many students benefit from joining a writing group where they can get feedback and support from fellow students. Creating deadlines with the committee chair for each phase of the thesis or for each chapter can also help. Most M.A. theses are in the range of 50-100 pages. Students should present the thesis draft, either as a whole document or chapter by chapter, to all committee members so that they can give you feedback. Students usually have to write multiple drafts of each chapter, so you need to leave time in your research calendar for your committee members to read your draft and give you feedback, and for you to rewrite based on their comments. Writing can be a difficult and time-consuming process, but most students find the end results very rewarding and students improve their research and writing skills through this process. Faculty and peer (student) support can be key to getting through this process.

Submitting the Final Thesis

These are submitted electronically to the campus library. Students must arrange to work with the library thesis reviewer, who must review and approve your thesis before it can be uploaded. Usually, students must make an appointment with the thesis reviewer, so be sure to check in with the thesis reviewer early on so you are aware of their requirements and deadlines. The library establishes deadlines every semester for both review and final submission. The library also offers regular workshops every semester about the thesis process and thesis review.

Thesis Defense

The oral defense of the thesis is a time for all committee members to come together with the student to evaluate the thesis. The student should be prepared to give a short presentation on the thesis, and then to respond to committee member questions. In compliance with university requirements, the thesis defense is recorded and the audio recording is stored for 5 years. The defense is usually scheduled during the final weeks of the semester in which the student is submitting the final thesis. After the defense, you committee will sign the GS-13 form, which is the final form necessary to approve your thesis.

The Office of Graduate Studies has a link to this and other forms, as well as important information regarding deadlines, thesis formatting and submission workshops, and other relevant topics:

Click on the link Thesis Guidelines to download. a copy.