The General Exam (Composition)

About the Exam

The General Exam is one of the principal requirements for PhD candidacy and allows the faculty to evaluate students’ preparedness for a career in composition.  It is designed to assess students' ability to address works by other composers, as well as to showcase their own creative output. 

The exam consists of two broad sections: 1) a Generals Concert of original work produced collaboratively by all second-year students as part of the Princeton Sound Kitchen Series and 2) an oral exam in May. 


While the General Exam consists of a Generals Concert in April and an oral exam in May, students must adhere to preparatory deadlines earlier in the second year of study.  The General Exam guidelines are distributed during the summer following the first year of study.

By December 1: plans for the Generals Concert must be discussed with the Director of Graduate Studies, the director of the Princeton Sound Kitchen, and with the production staff.

By February 1: a written statement outlining your compositional project for the Generals Concert must be submitted to the composition faculty.

April: Generals Concert

May: General Exam

Exam Format

The exam consists of participation in the Generals Concert, and an oral exam. 

The oral exam comprises several different sections: addressing works from pre-twentieth-century music and a second body of more recent music, the design of a graduate composition course, as well as a discussion about your work.


Students will be notified of the results of the General Exam by the Director of Graduate Studies within 48 hours of the exam.

The Music Department maintains high standards for the exam, and the faculty considers carefully the potential and future of any student who does not perform adequately on his or her Generals.  If deemed appropriate by the faculty, a student may be given a master’s degree and terminated from the program. Students who fail the exam have the opportunity to retake the exam during the following year on the schedule recommended by the DGS and the Graduate School, normally not more than a year after the initial exam.  In the event of a second failure, the student is automatically terminated.