MPH Comprehensive Exam Policy

Comprehensive examinations require students to: 

  • Demonstrate comprehension of public health, their emphasis area, and the relationship of their chosen emphasis area to public health;
  • Frame issues within relevant theoretical frameworks;
  • Understand appropriate literature
  • Synthesize and apply knowledge learned during the course of study.

Additionally, students are required to provide responses that are well organized, cogent, and logical.


Eligibility and Time Frame
Comprehensive examinations will be held at the end of the Fall and Spring semesters and must be taken on the Hattiesburg campus.   Announcement of comprehensive examination dates will be made at the beginning of fall and spring semesters. 

Exams are tentatively scheduled the week prior to the University final exam schedule.  Students will be deemed eligible to take comprehensive examinations during their final semester of study and are required to complete the exams within one year (12 months) of establishing eligibility.  Students should complete and submit the M.P.H. Comprehensive Examination Request Form to the Graduate Coordinator early in the semester of their requested examination date. 


Students should be prepared to answer questions from all courses taken during the MPH program.  To aid students in preparation, an orientation session is scheduled early each semester where students may ask questions and receive further guidance.  


Examination Format (sample)
Closed book discussion questions are given over a two day period according to the following schedule:

Day One         
8:00 A.M. – 12:00 P.M.
Environmental Health Exam and Health Administration Exam
1:00 P.M. – 5:00 P.M.
Emphasis Exam

Day Two         
8:00 A.M. – 12:00 P.M.
Biostatistics Exam and Epidemiology Exam
1:00 P.M. – 3:00 P.M.
Social and Behavioral Aspects of Health Exam


Comprehensive Examination Questions
The Graduate Coordinator will assemble faculty representative(s) from each core course and emphasis area to compose examinations.  Comprehensive exam questions are developed based on public health core and emphasis area competencies. All students will answer the same set of core questions. 


Grading of Examinations
Each exam is labeled with a randomly assigned code and distributed to the graders the day following the examination.  Graders will have 3-5 days to arrive at a final grade.  Exams are graded as pass with distinction, pass, low pass/oral examination indicated or  fail.


Oral Examination
In situations where the quality of answers is marginal, graders may choose, “low pass, oral examination indicated.”  Students will be notified of grade and given an opportunity to review substandard answers. Students will also be notified of their assigned appointment for the oral examination.  Those present for the oral examination will include, but are not limited to, the faculty representative in the area of the question and the graduate coordinator.  At the end of the oral examination, the student’s responses are discussed, and the student is immediately notified of the result.  Should a student fail the oral examination, rewrites will be given during the next regularly scheduled comprehensive examination.  The student must reapply to take the examination. The student must also process the necessary deferment with Graduate School.


Students who fail one comprehensive examination area are given the opportunity to rewrite questions in the area of failure during the next regularly scheduled comprehensive examinations.  If rewritten answers are marginal, oral examinations may be scheduled.  If the student fails the rewrite, remedial course work may be recommended by the faculty.

Students who fail two or more areas of their comprehensive examination will write on the sections they fail and any other sections graded as “low pass” during the next administration of comprehensive exam.  Failure of the majority of the comprehensive examination, in the absence of compelling extenuating circumstances, will result in a recommendation of termination from the degree program to the Office of Graduate Studies.


Remedial Coursework
Should the student fail an initial rewrite of a comprehensive examination area(s), three hours of coursework designated by the graduate faculty must be completed in any deficiency area.  A grade of B or better must be earned in order to be eligible to take the examination a third time.  If the student fails to make a grade of B or better in the prescribed course OR fails the comprehensive examination after completing the course, termination of the student from the degree program is recommended to the Office of Graduate Studies.


Student Access to Examinations
Completed examinations are retained in the Department of Public Health. Students are encouraged to review the examination report form and take notes about any written comments from the graders.  Students are not allowed to make or keep copies of the actual test.