The Comprehensive Exam in Major

Whitman College requires a comprehensive exam in major for graduation. In the Department of Biology this exam comprises two parts: a written component and an oral exam.

The written component:

Biology majors take the Graduate Record Exam in Biology usually in October or December of their senior year. They must reach the 30th percentile on the exam to pass. Students pursuing honors in major must achieve a score of 85 percentile on the GRE.

The oral component:

A committee of two faculty members administers an hour senior oral exam. The oral can be quite free-ranging but usually it covers fundamental concepts in biology. Students might also see some questions about their senior projects.

If a non-honors student achieves the honors level on the GRE and a highly meritorious performance on the oral exam, the comprehensive exam committee may award the student the accolade of Passed with Distinction. For students pursuing honors, the examining committee comprises 4 or more members of the Biology Department and the student must achieve Passed with Distinction.

Biology/Environmental Studies majors also take the biology GRE. The pass mark is set at the 30th percentile and the honors level at the 80th percentile.

Students completing a combined Chemistry-Biology major must take the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology GRE. The pass mark for this exam is the 30th percentile and the honors marks is the 70th percentile. The oral exam committee for combined Chemistry-Biology majors usually comprises three members of the biology and chemistry department.

For most biology and combined biology majors, the Department schedules the oral exam in February of their senior year. For honors candidates, the Department schedules their exams in December of their senior year.

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