Montclair State University Graduate Students

Graduate Culminating Activity

All graduate students are required to participate in a comprehensive experience near the end of their degree programs in order to demonstrate proficiency in their programs of study.

Past and present Montclair State graduate students recommend that it is best to approach these “degree determining events” as opportunities for your expertise to be tested. It is never too early to begin taking active steps – such as applying for exams and registering for courses – to prepare for your comprehensive experience.

Your Graduate Program Coordinator / Doctoral Program Director will be able to advise you throughout your studies to help you plan ahead and determine options for fulfilling your comprehensive experience requirement. In addition, many departments have study materials that can help you prepare for your comprehensive exams.

Click on the links provided below to learn more about specific study techniques for your particular comprehensive experience.

  • Comprehensive Examination/Project
    •  Evaluates your integrated knowledge of your area of study gained through coursework and program experience.
    • The comprehensive examination is open to fully matriculated students with a minimum GPA of 3.00.
    • It is administered once in the fall semester and once in the spring semester by individual program departments.
    • Your Graduate Program Coordinator can give you the date and time of your comprehensive examination.
    • It is your responsibility to register for the Comprehensive Examination course. Please speak to your adviser to ask if you are eligible to take the comprehensive exam. To register for the comprehensive exam: Log into WESS, select subject “Generic Graduate Course”, select “GRAD-CMP Comprehensive Examination”. Each section is listed under the major. Students must register the GRAD-CMP course on WESS by the end of the Drop/Add period (the second week of the semester.)
    • Students who fail the departmental comprehensive examination may retake the test two times, but must register each time as described above.
    • Students who fail the comprehensive examination for the third time will be dismissed from their programs of study.
  •  Thesis
  • Dissertation
    • Doctoral candidates demonstrate their mastery of a body of existing literature and theory and their application to an educational problem through a dissertation.
    • For more information, visit Dissertation Procedures
  • Research Project
    • For these small scope investigations of research projects, students define their research question and document the results of their research in a written work.
  • Capstone Course for MBA Programs
    • This course focuses on actual business situations and their impact on the organization.
    • You must complete the business core courses and a minimum of 15 semester hours of advanced courses before enrolling in the Capstone Course.
    • For more information, visit:
  • Culminating Activity Course
    • Programs that require a culminating activity course include:
      • Master of Education
      • Master of Arts in Reading
    • Check with your department for specific requirements.

Information and Resources

  • For additional information about the comprehensive experience, please contact your Graduate Program Coordinator or The Graduate School at 973-655-5147 or
  • For procedures and guidelines on preparing a doctoral dissertation, thesis, or to apply for the graduate comprehensive examination, visit: Academic Policies, Procedures and Guidelines
  • Tap into the resources below to get started on your comprehensive experience:
    • Check with your department, your Graduate Program Coordinator/Doctoral Program Director and The Graduate School.
    • You must be fully matriculated and in good academic standing in your graduate program in order to register for the thesis course, comprehensive activity course or comprehensive examination.
    • Learn more about compliance with The Graduate School standards in Academic Policies, Procedures and Guidelines
    • You can access all forms required for your culminating experience. Note that all forms require the approval of your Graduate Program Coordinator.
    • University Microfilms International (UMI) makes dissertations available to other researchers for a fee. This is a terrific resource to learn what’s current in your field. Contact authors to learn more about their research and be sure to get their permission in advance if their work can help you.

Tips for Success

  • Planning
    • Montclair State’s librarians are here to help you. Make a one-on-one appointment to learn how they can help with:
      • Citations.
      • Internet searches.
      • Inter-library services.
    • Use time and space constructively by:
      • Finding a workspace that fits your needs.
      • Sticking to a realistic work schedule.
      • Taking breaks and making the most of your personal time.
    • Use index cards to help organize your thoughts and work.
    • If your research involves human subjects, it must be approved by the Institutional Review Board, or IRB, before you may begin.
  • Networking
    • People in your field are invaluable resources. Make the most of their knowledge by:
      • Networking.
      • Attending conferences.
      • Requesting material from conferences related to your topic.
      • Forming a study group. You should:
        • Include people who have had different professors so that you can compare learning experiences.
        • Limit your group to no more than 4 people.
        • Establish regular meeting times.
        • Play to the strengths of group members so that everyone is comfortable with his or her portion of the work.
        • Include group members with strengths in at least one of the areas you will be tested on.

Working with your Graduate Program Coordinator

To get the support you need from your Graduate Program and/or Thesis Coordinator:

  • Speak with your Graduate Program Coordinator to learn about specific requirements like timelines.
  • Make sure you understand your Program Coordinator’s philosophy and expectations.
  • Don’t be too independent. Follow your Program Coordinator’s recommendations.
  • Stay on track by talking to your Program Coordinator before you start to write and while you are writing.
  • If your comprehensive experience demands a faculty committee review, choose your committee members wisely. Generally, the department Chair will be your Program Coordinator. Your committee should include a member from inside your department and one from outside it, though look for faculty who share similar mindsets.
  • Meet with your thesis Program Coordinator at least once a week. Meet regularly with other committee members and send them weekly drafts for review. Try to schedule meetings with everyone at once to encourage consensus.
  • Ask for help when you need it.

The Comprehensive Examination

The comprehensive examination is not about regurgitating facts. It’s about applying your knowledge. These tips can help:

  • If you have test anxiety, stick to simple study techniques.
  • Download your departmental study guide, if available. It can help you identify gaps in your knowledge.
  • Review your course notes and textbooks. Make outlines.
  • Practice writing essays.
  • Explain theories to a friend or pretend to apply theories to hypothetical situations.
  • Include ethical and multicultural considerations when answering questions.
  • Do a Google search for PowerPoint presentations for specific theories/principles.
  • Look for case studies and write essays about them based on relevant theories.

When it’s test time, be sure to:

  • Get a good night’s sleep the night before your exam
  • Arrive early for the exam
  • Use the restroom before the exam starts
  • Give yourself a full hour to answer each question
    • Take 15 minutes to outline your answer
    • Spend 30 minutes writing your essay
    • Use the final 15 minutes to edit and review your answer

Be sure to bring the following to your exam:

  • An extra blue book to use as scratch paper
  • A watch/time piece
  • A snack
  • Extra pens

Written Work

Keep your thesis on track.

  • Choose a topic that truly interests you early on in your program. Work on your thesis as you pursue your degree, choosing coursework that can support it.
  • Apply for grants early and often through departments, the field, and conferences. Apply every year that you can for the maximum available amount.
  • Learn how to write a research proposal.
  • Learn how to write an annotated bibliography.
  • Develop plans and outlines throughout your project.
  • Developing a proposal and collecting data are time-consuming.
    • Keep your proposal specific. This is the foundation for your work and is a key to managing your project.
    • Develop timelines for each outline and chapter.
  • Don’t be discouraged by revisions. They can lead to a published work.
  • Be flexible. Research can take you in surprising directions – be willing to “go with it.”
  • Get your thoughts down on paper and polish them later. It is more important to keep writing than to get stuck.
  • Meet your deadlines.
  • Use Montclair’s reference librarians as resources.
  • Look for publishing opportunities by writing journal articles, research papers, etc.

Research Project

  • Choose a topic that has not been extensively researched. Look for all related research on your topic.
  • After you meet with your Program Coordinator, make corrections/revisions as soon as possible to save time.
  • Expect to spend at least 10 hours a week in the lab.
  • Stay focused on facts rather than opinions
  • The National Center of Biotechnology Information (NCBI) is a useful resource:

Capstone Course

The Capstone Course, which looks at an organization from the CEO’s perspective and requires knowledge of all disciplines, gives you the opportunity to apply what you learned in the MBA program.

  • Read assignments ahead of class and keep up with current events to make the most of your time in the classroom.
  • Use timelines to manage your work.
  • Do not just read from slides during a presentation. If you are well prepared, you will be able to elaborate on bullet points.
  • Keep research materials from all your classes as there is often crossover from one class to the next.
  • When applicable, use Canvas as a resource.
  • Ask your professors for guidance. Take courses from teachers who participate in exam preparation. Gaining insight about their style of teaching, test making, and what they emphasize in class is a great way to prepare for examinations.