In accord with college regulations, all psychology majors must take a comprehensive examination prior to graduation. The examination is separate from the regular course work. It is designed to assess students' (a) understanding of the fundamental vocabulary, principles, and methods of psychology; (b) mastery of the basic skills involved in the discipline; and (c) ability to relate various aspects of the profession and discipline of psychology to each other.


There are several possible reasons or justifications for this requirement.
  1. Because Hanover College does not mandate the use of final, cumulative course examinations, such exams tend not to be used by instructors. The senior comprehensive exam, then, provides a rare opportunity for students to integrate all of the materials in the area of their major specialization.
  2. The exam is a means of identifying students' overall strengths and weaknesses within their own programs and relative to their peers rationally, thereby serving valuable social comparison purposes.
  3. Preparation for the exam exposes students to information not previously encountered, and thus serves an educative function.
  4. Many students will take national comprehensive examinations (e.g., A.G.R.E.) for securing graduate school and employment positions. Preparing for "senior comps" is good preparation for these standardized exams.
  5. Perhaps more important, a comprehensive review should point out interrelationships among seemingly disparate bits of information, leading to the understanding that psychology is, after all, a coherent body of knowledge and not just an arbitrary list of courses taken.
  6. Finally, although not to be slighted, is the sense of personal satisfaction and professional identity the student gains from the realization that s/he can converse intelligently and sensitively, critically and creatively, on the unbelievably complex phenomenon of behavior.
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Currently, the senior comprehensive examination in psychology is the Major Field Test in Psychology published by the Educational Testing Service. This nationally standardized test is composed of about 150 multiple-choice items. The test is administered in two consecutive one-hour periods. The questions cover materials one might be exposed to in a quality undergraduate psychology program. The test is NOT over the specific courses you have taken at Hanover or elsewhere, although your course work will certainly help prepare you for this test.

Preparation for the exam would minimally include studying a sample of encyclopedic introductory textbooks, textbooks used in advanced courses, and class notes from psychology courses. (N.B.: students are responsible for all areas of psychology regardless of whether or not they have taken a course in some area. Thus it would be helpful to study materials of other psychology majors, so as to fill in gaps of information.) Students are encouraged to meet with the departmental staff for study materials and suggestions. It is usually more necessary that students achieve organization and systematization of their knowledge of psychology than that they acquire additional knowledge; furthermore, often the latter results from the former.

The exam is usually scheduled for the last Saturday morning (9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon) in January (i.e., at the time for all senior comprehensive exams on campus). The exam is usually held in Science Hall 307 with only psychology majors present. Of course, a specific schedule will be announced long before the date for any given year.

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The Educational Testing Service will report three scores: a total score, a social subtest score, and an experimental subtest score. Just the total score will be used; the subtest scores are useful for informational purposes only. The comprehensive examination will be graded on the usual scale employed for course grades. The grade on the examination will be averaged in with the students' overall grade point average and with the psychology grade point average. The exam will have the weight of one (1) course unit. For example, if a student takes the minimum ten courses for a psychology major, the senior exam will count one-eleventh of the major grade point average. The comprehensive examination will not accumulate credit toward the major or graduation requirements.

The following scale will be in effect for the written examination:


                          ETS Total           

                          Score %ile      Grade


                          95-100          A

                          90-94           B+

                          85-89           B

                          80-84           B-

                          75-79           C+

                          70-74           C

                          65-69           C-

                          60-64           D+

                          55-59           D

                          50-54           D-

                          0-49            F


A student must earn a grade of A on this written exam in order to claim that s/he passed comps "with distinction" and to qualify for "Graduation with Departmental Honors."

A student who fails the written examination (i.e., who scores in the lower half of the population) will be permitted to petition the Psychology Chair for another evaluation. (In the rare event that a grade of C- or in the D range would jeopardize graduation by lowering the overall or major GPA below 2.00, a student earning such a score on the exam may also petition for another evaluation.) The student will then be scheduled to take an oral examination within a month. (This timing is so the student may pass the oral examination, and hence, senior comprehensive examinations in time to graduate with the class.) The oral examination will last about one hour. The four departmental psychologists will each successively pose questions from their respective areas of expertise. The questions will be designed to evoke factual information, integrative answers, theoretical analysis, practical applications, and personal opinion and conjecture. Special study materials and suggestions for preparation will be provided on the basis of an analysis of the student's strengths and weaknesses as diagnosed by the written exam. The highest grade which can be earned on the oral exam is C.

A student who fails both the written and the oral examinations may appeal to the Rules Application Committee for permission to be evaluated a third time. The third evaluation will be a set of broad essay items constructed by the departmental staff covering the entire field of psychology. If permission is granted, a period of at least 12 weeks will intervene between the oral exam and the third evaluation. In no case will the third evaluation be administered before the graduation date originally indicated on the Registrar's records. This third essay examination will be the student's final opportunity to pass with a major in psychology. The highest grade which can be earned on the essay exam is C.

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Students will be notified in writing of their score on the written evaluation.

Results of the examination will be reported to the Registrar in the same manner as the other course grades for the term, except that comprehensive grades for the May-August division graduates will be filed no later than the Wednesday of the second week of the Spring Term. A separate line on the student's transcript will report the grade of the evaluation. Students who fail and are reevaluated once by the oral examination will have one grade (presumably the grade on the oral examination) recorded on the official academic transcript. Those who fail the oral examination and who, with permission of the Rules Application Committee, take the essay examination will have two grades appear on the transcript, in the same manner as is presently done for a repeated course.

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