Breadth Exam


The breadth exam is the first of the exams for doctoral students and the only exam for post-doctoral students. Its aim is to assess that students have acquired knowledge across the different disciplines and topics of informatics and are able to reason and synthesize about a wide range of scenarios where informatics approaches are pertinent. While it is acknowledged that students, even at the time of taking the breadth exam, have their own research focus, this exam focuses on the breadth of the field. Students are expected to demonstrate the ability to answer and discuss a wide range of scenarios, beyond their sole research focus.

The exam is taken by all PhD and degree-seeking Postdoctoral students.

Students take the breadth exam in their second year in the program. The exam is offered once per year in January. Retake exams take place in May.

The breadth exam comprises two parts: a written portion, followed by an oral portion. Students are not given intermediate feedback between the written and oral components of the exam. The exam is on a pass/retake basis. The pass/retake decision is made after both the written and oral components of the exam are completed.

If the outcome is Retake, the retake exam may be oral and/or written, depending upon the knowledge fund areas requiring further synthesis. The retake exam is on a pass/fail basis. Students can re-take the exam once only.

The 3-hour timed written exam will require responses that demonstrate synthesis and reasoning across core courses. The expectation is that trainees draw on their broad knowledge of the field of informatics when answering the questions and provide detailed answers. Students must answer three out of four questions. Of the three questions, some may be required.

Students will meet with faculty examiners for the oral component of the exam. The oral component is estimated to take 30 minutes. Students will be asked additional knowledge-fund questions or for clarification on their written responses. While the written portion emphasizes complete and detailed answers, the oral portion favors succinct and direct responses.

Students who retake the exam are encouraged to follow the oral examiners’ feedback to help them prepare.