All Special Concentrators, honors and non-honors, must take and pass a general examination. This examination can be taken either as an oral or a written exam. The written exam is three hours long and the oral exam is one hour long. The oral exam is not a defense of the thesis or project, but an oral version of the written exam.
The faculty adviser is responsible for writing the questions for the exam and for grading it. Students should consult with their advisers as to how to prepare for the exam. The most usual method is that the student and the adviser agree on a reading list upon which the exam will be based.
The adjective "general" in the title General Examination should not be understood to indicate that students are to answer questions in a general manner, but rather that the questions themselves are designed to test the broad spectrum of their knowledge about their concentration.
Concentrators will be expected to draw upon the courses they have taken and more particularly on the primary and secondary reading they have done either in course work or in tutorial in order to give examples, support their statements, or to pin down specific references made. While it is not expected, of course, that a General Examination will contain footnotes, the more specific information included, the more the reader will get an impression of comprehensive knowledge. Unsubstantiated assertions and gratuitous comments do not advance one's argument or contribute to the examination.
In the written examination, students will, in some cases, be asked to spend the entire three hours on one essay, though it is more usual to have one large essay and several smaller ones. Students are well advised to spend some time, particularly in regard to the longer essays, in organizing their thoughts and preparing a brief outline of the answer.