Graduate Programs

Program Details

Comprehensive Exam

Only the exercise science students are required to take a comprehensive exam.

Overview: To assist the student in solidifying his or her understanding of the fundamental principles in biomechanics, exercise physiology and statistics, a written and oral comprehensive exam is given one and half years into the program. Students are tested in all three areas, with the more challenging questions being in their area of specialization. Prior to the test, the student reviews fundamental principles in biomechanics, exercise physiology and statistics. The professors provide several questions in these three areas that the student answers in writing. The professors read the answers and provide feedback to the student as s/he prepares for the oral exam that follows approximately a week later.

Written Test: The written test usually includes approximately three to four questions in each of the three areas. The student is given two to three hours to answer the questions without the help of books or notes. The test questions are designed to evaluate whether the students can apply principles they have learned to answer applied questions. The questions are usually related to the student's thesis topic. Sample questions are provided at the bottom of this page.

Oral Test: During the one to two hour oral test, the professors seek clarification on the written answers by asking questions. This often leads to questions not asked on the written test. Questioning usually begins at a superficial level, with subsequent questions designed to determine the student's depth of understanding. The professors try to keep the atmosphere relaxed and genuinely inquisitive, and treat each student with respect.

Passing Rate: When the student passes both tests, s/he is free to continue working on his or her thesis. All passionate students who have taken full advantage of the educational opportunities throughout the graduate program have passed the exam, usually with “flying colors.” Only a few students have ever failed the exam, and in each case these students did not prioritize their graduate education above other activities. In this situation, the student is given an opportunity to re-prepare and take another oral exam.

Sample Written Test Questions:


  1. Why are you able to lower a larger weight (“negatives”) than you can lift? Consider what you know about Newton 's law-of-acceleration, expected bar velocities and the force-velocity curve.
  2. Explain why the hip flexors must generate larger forces during a full sit up with the hands overhead as compared to folded across the chest.

Exercise Physiology

  1. The Fick Principle describes the relationship between cardiac output and oxygen uptake. What are those factors involved with this principle? Describe how the Fick Principle is applied to exercise and how changes occur under hydrated and dehydrated states.
  2. What is the major source of fatigue near the end of a marathon and explain why this is thought to be the major source of fatigue?


  1. How does a t-test determine whether it is likely that two means are different? Hint: consider the difference between the means and the standard error of the mean?
  2. Which of the statistics (r, r 2 , p, SEE,…) would you consider the best indicator of the precision of a derived simple linear regression equation in predicting the dependent variable? Why?