Comprehensive Exams and Thesis

Comprehensive Exams

LAS graduate students planning on taking the comprehensive exams should form a committee of three Latin Americanist faculty members on campus. Ideally the student has worked closely with these faculty members during his/her coursework, but the faculty members are likely in different departments and may not even know each other. Generally, students ask faculty members with whom they have taken classes to serve on their committees, though it is not required that the student have taken classes with the faculty member in question. Students should make arrangements with these faculty members and begin preparing for the exams by the quarter before the quarter in which they plan to take the exams. It is recommended that students take the comprehensive exams as soon after finishing their coursework as possible; students may take the exam during the last quarter in which they are enrolled in classes.

Each faculty member will develop a set of questions (usually 1-3) for the student. These questions should require the student to demonstrate mastery of a general field or subfield (e.g. Mesoamerican Studies, political science of Latin America, colonial history, etc.) as well as the student's particular research interests (e.g. Mesoamerican religious iconography, governance and power in post-war Guatemala, gender roles in colonial Mexico, etc), with an emphasis on the latter. The student should know these questions before taking the exam and should work with the mentoring faculty member to prepare for the exam. Fields in which our students generally take exams include Latin American Studies (history of the discipline, development of schools of thought, etc.), history, political science, anthropology, geography, Chicano Studies, art, music, communication studies (film and journalism), education, sociology, and women’s and gender studies.

Comprehensive exams are offered during fall, winter, and spring quarters, but not during summer quarter. They are administered in the 8th week of the quarter on three consecutive days for three hours each day. Students answer one set of questions each day. Each faculty committee member only reads the answers the student has prepared for her/him (in other words, there is only one reader per exam).

The written exam is followed by an oral examination, usually in the 10th week or classes or during exam week. During the oral exam, each faculty member on the student's committee should ask the student questions based on the students written responses (follow-up questions). Sometimes during oral exams, faculty find ways to encourage the student to bridge the three subject areas on which they were tested and find parallels or intersections between their three areas of study. At the end of the oral exams, faculty meet briefly without the student present to discuss the student's performance on each individual written exam and on the oral exam, and a decision is made as to whether the student has passed or not. Students may take the comprehensive exams up to three times if they do not pass on their first attempt.

Students must have been advanced to candidacy before enrolling in LAS 596 (comprehensive exams).  Students need to turn this comprehensive exam form and register for LAS 596 in the quarter in which they are taking their exams.


Students begin by selecting a topic in consultation with the LAS Director or a LAS faculty member.  Students should then develop a committee of three people (which may include the LAS Director) with one faculty member serving as the Chair.  Committee members are usually members of the CSULA faculty, although in appropriate cases other qualified scholars may serve on thesis committees. 

Time spent writing the thesis proposal is not wasted. A well--written proposal is a large step taken toward writing an acceptable thesis. A student must demonstrate in this prospectus not only the specific topic that they are interested in investigating, but their knowledge of the literature related to this topic, the relevance of their research to larger questions and issues in the field, and their ability to formulate a plan for carrying out their proposed research. For the purposes of clarity, the proposal should be divided into clear categories.

This should include an introduction to the topic of the intended research, a statement of the problem, and the goals of the research.

This section should evidence the student's awareness of the specific studies and theoretical discussions that bear upon the proposed research. It should include a brief history of similar research and a discussion of the theoretical questions upon which the thesis research will ultimately bear. It will raise those particular questions the thesis is designed to address. It is in this section that the student articulates the linkage between the specific research project and larger questions in the literature.

Body of Proposal
The student must discuss the nature of their proposed research in some detail, identifying the assumptions upon which it rests, the theoretical perspectives that will be employed, and the bearing that this research will have in testing particular hypotheses or addressing broader questions in the discipline.

The student should discuss in detail the plan for research, what particular research strategies and techniques are to be employed, and why they are preferred over other strategies and techniques. The student should also include a time-frame for the proposed research (weeks, months, etc.) indicating how much time will be allocated to each phase of the project.

Chapter Outline
The student should provide a chapter by chapter description of what the thesis will look like. In this narrative outline each chapter should have a title and a brief description of what will be covered.

This is a brief review of what has been said, recapitulating the contribution of the proposed research project o general knowledge and to the discipline.

Under a section entitled "References Cited," include all resources used in writing this proposal. (These will have been appropriately cited in the body of the proposal using the citation style of the journal Latin American Perspectives). In a separate section entitled "Bibliography," include additional sources on the subject matter, research methodology, and general theory that are see appropriate and which you intend to employ in the thesis proper.