The General Exam (Musicology)

The General Exam is normally given in May of the second year of study.

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 musicology.  It is designed to help students broaden their understanding of scholarship, methodology, and repertory in six different fields, to demonstrate their knowledge of the discipline, ability to think critically, and to communicate effectively both in writing and orally.  

The exam focuses on six broad fields or areas chosen by the student in consultation with the faculty, according to the rubric set out in the Musicology Generals Handbook.


The General Exam is normally given in May of the second year of study. Students are not permitted to postpone their exams unless there is a serious medical condition or other emergency.

Students should begin discussing prospective fields with the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) and faculty as early as spring of the first year of study.  Fields must be approved by the DGS no later than October 1 of the academic year in which they are taking their exam. 

Exam Format

Individual exams are prepared for each student by the DGS in consultation with the Musicology faculty. This is a closed book exam.  No books, notes, pre-written essays, computer files or web sites, recordings, scores or any other outside materials may be consulted.

The written portion of the exam is given over a 2-day period from 9 a.m.-5 p.m; it is administered and taken in the Music Department.  Each student writes on three fields per day, usually given in chronological order. For each field, students are given three questions, and are required to write one long and one short essay.

The oral portion of the exam is administered several days after the conclusion of the written exam. Each student meets with the Musicology faculty for no more than an hour to discuss the exam, answer questions posed by the faculty, and to amend, correct, or amplify his or her written exam.


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

The Musicology 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.