The MPH Comprehensive Exam is a required milestone for the Gillings MPH degree awarded by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

2020 MPH Comprehensive Exam Dates

  • Friday, August 21, 2020
  • Saturday, August 22, 2020
  • Monday, August 24, 2020

Overview

The MPH Comprehensive Exam is designed to evaluate students’ ability to apply foundational public health knowledge and skills developed in the MPH Core courses to novel contexts, problems and populations. It also is designed to further the development of students’ integrative and critical thinking skills. The Comprehensive Exam (and the preparation for it) also provides students with the opportunity to practice and demonstrate skills communicating about public health issues and solutions with colleagues, other stakeholders and the general public.

What does the MPH Comprehensive Exam cover?

The Comprehensive Exam will cover the knowledge and skills developed from taking the following required MPH Core courses:

  • SPHG 711 – Data Analysis for Public Health
  • SPHG 712 – Measurements & Methods for Public Health Practice
  • SPHG 713 – Understanding Public Health Issues
  • SPHG 721 – Conceptualizing Public Health Solutions
  • SPHG 722 – Developing, Implementing, and Evaluating Public Health Solutions

Who takes the MPH Comprehensive Exam?

All MPH and MSPH (some) degree students—residential, online (MPH@UNC), and distance (Asheville) must take the exam.

What is the format of the MPH Comprehensive Exam?

The MPH Comprehensive Exam is an oral exam. Students sign up for a 20-minute exam appointment via an online scheduling system, during which they will answer 2 main questions and 2 follow-up probe questions. Two faculty members grade the exam.

Overview

What is the Comprehensive Exam?

The MPH Comprehensive Exam (here, aka “Comprehensive Exam’, “Comp Exam”, “comps”, “exam”) is a required milestone for the Gillings MPH degree awarded by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Comprehensive Exam is designed to evaluate students’ ability to apply foundational public health knowledge and skills developed in the MPH Core courses to novel contexts, problems and populations. The exam is designed to further the development of students’ integrative and critical thinking skills. The exam (and the preparation for it) also provides students with the opportunity to practice and demonstrate skills communicating about public health issues and solutions with colleagues, other stakeholders and the general public.

The Comprehensive Exam will cover the knowledge and skills developed from taking the following required Core MPH courses:

  • SPHG 711 – Data Analysis for Public Health
  • SPHG 712 – Measurements & Methods for Public Health Practice
  • SPHG 713 – Understanding Public Health Issues
  • SPHG 721 – Public Health Solutions: Systems, Policy & Advocacy
  • SPHG 722 – Developing, Implementing, and Evaluating Public Health Solutions

Who takes the Comp Exam?

All MPH and MSPH (some) degree students—residential, online (MPH@UNC) and distance (Asheville) must take the exam.

When is the Comp Exam?

The exam will be held August 21 (Fri), August 22 (Sat) and August 24 (Mon). Students will sign up for an exam appointment via an online scheduling system.

Is there a fee to take the exam?

There is no fee to take the exam.

Is there a course number for this oral exam?

There is no course or course number for the exam, and no credit hours accompany the exam. However, enrollment in at least 1-credit hour during the semester in which the exam is taken is required.

How often will the exam be offered?

The Comp Exam will be administered 2 times a year – once in fall 2020 and once in spring 2021. Students are expected to take the exam as soon as it is offered after they have completed the MPH Core courses. Again, students must be registered for at least 1 credit hour in the semester in which they take the exam.

Why will the exam be administered in fall 2020, after a summer away from class, when it will be difficult to recall material?

The exam (and the preparation for it) is intended to be an opportunity to practice and demonstrate skills communicating public health issues and solutions with colleagues, other stakeholders and the general public. We have heard from students in the past that the time they spend studying for the Comp Exam helps reinforce what they’ve learned, competencies and integration, and they highly valued this experience.

Will there be an exam date at the beginning of the calendar year for individuals who completed all core classes at the end of 2020?

Spring 2021 exam dates will be established.

Why was the decision made to hold a Gillings-specific exam instead of the national Certified in Public Health (CPH) Exam that some MPH programs require?

We gave this a lot of consideration. Most importantly, cost was a barrier for students and the School. Each student would have been charged $385 to take the exam. If the student had to retake the exam, they would have to pay another $385. Also, we concluded the CPH exam did not reflect the integrated nature of our MPH Core program, nor could we ensure that it reflected all the changes to the Council on Education in Public Health (CEPH) competencies. The Gillings MPH Comprehensive Exam is based on the integrated MPH Core curriculum, and there is no fee.

Format

What is the format for the day of the exam?

The MPH Comprehensive Exam will be an oral exam. Students will take it online from anywhere unless accommodations, as recommended by Accessibility Resources & Service (ARS), are needed.

The exam will take place in a Zoom meeting where each student will interact with two faculty graders (from different academic units) in a 20-minute appointment. All Zoom appointments will be recorded.

During the 20-minute Zoom appointment, each student will be asked to answer 2 primary questions on a specific health topic. A list of primary questions will be distributed to students two months in advance of the exam. Two weeks before the exam, the public health topics to which the primary questions will be applied will be released. A public health topic consists of a health problem, in a specific population and geographic context. Students will apply the primary questions to one of the health topics during the exam. The examiner will identify the health topic to be applied.

Each primary question will include a follow-up “probe” question. These 2 follow-up probe questions will not be distributed in advance. Students will have up to 5 minutes to answer each of 2 primary questions and 2 follow-up probe questions.

Individual students will be asked different primary questions and different follow-up probe questions for their oral exam.

Will all comps for this year be conducted via Zoom, or if students take the exam in the spring, will the format potentially be different?

The plan is to keep the format the same for future iterations of the exam, unless, of course, we learn some lessons from the first implementation to apply in the future.

Are there enough spots for every MPH/MSPH student during those three days in August? Or, should students be concerned about vying for spots?

Yes, we are planning to have enough slots for each student. All students will receive signup information at the same time. The earlier you sign up, the more time choices you will have among the three days.

Will this be an open-book type of exam/interview?

All preparation before the exam is open book. The oral exam itself is not open book and is being administered with the UNC Honor Code in place.

Should answers to exam questions be for an academic audience, as opposed to a lay
audience?

Students should prepare their answers based on their knowledge gained from the completion of the MPH Core courses, along with information provided by the readings recommended for the topics identified and other relevant literature. The audience for the exam are faculty, colleagues, and others who might ask you for your public health perspective on a topic. These professional colleagues may have expertise that is different from yours, so avoid jargon. When you organize your answers for the primary questions provided before the exam, refer to your course materials and other relevant literature.

How should students cite course and other materials during the exam?

When you provide your responses to questions during the oral exam, you will not need to say:
As documented by the World Health Organization on March 29, 2020, “Droplet transmission occurs when a person is in close contact (within 1 m) with someone who has respiratory symptoms (e.g., coughing or sneezing) and is therefore at risk of having his/her mucosae (mouth and nose) or conjunctiva (eyes) exposed to potentially infective respiratory droplets.” (WHO, 2020, para. 3)

Instead, you might say something as follows:
The World Health Organization, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has described how the COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that is transmitted by droplets.

Process

What are the steps to prepare for the oral comprehensive exam?

After the spring semester, we will share a set of advance preparation questions for students to use to prepare for the exam.

Two weeks in advance of the exam, we will announce two substantive public health topics for the exam (for example, vaping in US high school students, or measles in children in the Ukraine). Students should prepare answers for each of the primary questions focused on these public health topics/issues.

For each topic, we will provide 1-2 “anchor” articles or materials that provide some general background about the topics. Students are encouraged to further consult the literature and data to support their responses.

Students will schedule the time and date of their exam via an online scheduling system.

Can students study together?

Yes, students are highly encouraged to study together to discuss the topics, share additional data or materials they find, and work collaboratively to summarize relevant course material based on the distributed primary questions. Students are allowed to practice their responses orally with others to help prepare them for the exam. However, each student should independently prepare responses to each of the questions for the specific topics. The UNC Honor Code applies to individual student’s preparation of his/her draft responses for the specific topics and during the actual Zoom exam session.

Will students get the same public health issues to study?

Yes, all students will be getting the same two health issues to study.

What resources are available to help prepare for the exam?

Students registered to take the exam are given access to the MPH Core courses content. Students are encouraged to look back at the team project experiences from their MPH Core courses to capture the nature and spirit of the Comp Exam.

  • Residential and distance (Asheville) MPH students will access the MPH Core courses content via Sakai.
  • Former BSPH (who are current MPH students) and MSPH students also will be given access to the MPH Core courses in Sakai.
  • MPH@UNC students will have 2CH access to their MPH Core courses.

By when should students expect all MPH Core course resources to be posted on Sakai?

Fall MPH Core courses SPH 711, 712, 713 are already accessible for residential students. Spring MPH Core courses will be accessible to students by late May.

Can students have notes in front of them during the exam to help keep them on track
with their responses?

No, the exam is closed book and notes are not permitted.

What should students use to prepare their answers?

Responses should be derived from data, empirical evidence, theory or other concepts taught in the MPH Core courses. Responses should not be based on conjecture.

Accommodations

How will testing accommodations be handled for students with learning and other disabilities or exam modifications needs?

If students need accommodations, they must register through the University’s Accessibility Resources & Service (ARS) and inform Cassie Nakamoto at Gillings of their registration. It is the student’s responsibility to complete registration at least four weeks before the start of the semester in which he/she will take the exam. Gillings school administrative staff will then coordinate arrangements for your exam accommodations.

Retake and Remediation

What happens if a student does not pass the Comp Exam?

If a student does not pass the Comprehensive Exam the first time they take it, an individual remediation plan will be developed for each student. By university policy, a reexamination must be done at least 90 days after the initial exam date. A student becomes academically ineligible if they fail twice. A student made academically ineligible, under certain conditions, may be reinstated upon petition initiated through the student’s academic program. An appropriate academic plan must be developed.

Is it common for students to need to retake the exam?

The goal and intention of the exam is to assess students’ knowledge and ability to speak about and discuss public health topics. It would not be surprising if some students did not pass the exam on the first attempt. If a student does not pass, we will put together a remediation plan to help prepare him/her to successfully retake the exam.

Do students have to be registered for 1 credit to retake the exam?

Yes, students must be registered for at least 1 credit in the semester that they retake the exam.

Grading

Who will grade the exam?

MPH Core and other Gillings faculty will grade the exam.

How will grades be determined?

All graders will use the same rubric and will be trained on grading the exam with the common rubric.

How long do students have to wait to find out whether they passed or failed the exam?

We anticipate a two-week turnaround time for Pass/Fail grades, including review by a 3rd grader if the two graders do not agree, to determine a final grade.

For MPH@UNC students who use 2CH, will grades be uploaded there or in Sakai, as some of MPH@UNC students never may have used the Sakai platform and do not know what it is?

While MPH@UNC students’ content will remain accessible on the 2CH platform, they will access their Comp Exam grades in Sakai. We realize that MPH@UNC students may not be familiar with Sakai; therefore, we will provide detailed guidance on using this platform to obtain their final grade

Proctoring

Who will proctor the exam?

MPH Core and other Gillings faculty graders will proctor the exam.

Will the Asheville campus be proctored by Asheville-based instructors only, or any UNC
faculty?

Faculty from the Asheville program may serve as graders, but because graders are randomly assigned to students, Asheville-based students may be graded by other, non-Asheville, faculty.

Exam Topics

How will the health topics intersect with the primary questions, and will testing on them will be separate or combined?

As a part of the individual student’s two-weeks before the exam preparation, they will apply each of the primary questions to each of the identified health topics. During the oral exam, students will be asked to answer primary and follow-up probe questions in reference to one of the two health topics.

Will topics be selected from what MPH degree students are most likely to come across since this is evaluating our readiness? (e.g. COVID)

Topics will be selected from a wide range of current public health issues and will vary for each exam administration (e.g., Fall and Spring topics will differ).

Since students will no longer take the Comprehensive Exam for different concentrations, will the exam be individualized in some way to reflect how some concentrations may address a public health issue? Or, will there be slight variations to the questions based on concentration?

Topics for the exam will cover the MPH Core content and will not be tailored to concentrations; however, students can bring their disciplinary lens when answering their exam questions. We are selecting topics that are current, but also ones where there are sufficient literature and data for students of all concentrations to research.

Will both global and domestic topics be part of the exam?

Topics will vary each semester and can include both global and domestic content.

Will students need to do calculations as part of the exam?

No.

Additional Specific Questions

Are Core courses (SPHG 711, 712, 713, 721, 722) content only covered on the exam, or is 701 content also included? The email sent out included 701, and some students’ academic advisor/student success advisor have them taking SPHG 701 in fall of 2020. If 701 needs to be taken before the Comp Exam, these students would need to know now, before enrolling in summer session.

SPHG 701 content will not be included.

For students who completed the old MPH Core courses (BIOS 600, ENVR 600, EPID 600, HBEH 600 and HPM 600), and were exempted from the new MPH Core and still have to take the common Comprehensive Exam, do they have to teach themselves all of the new material?

Similar to the MSPH students who may have completed the old MPH core courses, they will have access to the Sakai sites for the SPHG 711, 712, 713, 721 & 722 to see the competencies addressed and types of assignments covered. Although much of the content from the old core courses may be relevant to the current exam, students may want to review additional materials and specific competencies covered in the new MPH Core.

Does the requirement to be enrolled in 1 credit hour apply for a dual student who will be in social work next year, and will only be registered in 1 credit of public health during the first semester, but has to do a retake later?

If the student is registered as a graduate student in another school or program at UNC Chapel Hill for at least 1 credit hour, then this counts (e.g. Dual Degree students).

For MPH@UNC students who took Core courses in fall 2018 and spring 2019, are there any further resources that will be provided beside the questions and articles being sent out early to help prepare/refresh?

MPH@UNC Core courses are open and still available to students on the 2CH platform. These courses, plus the primary questions and topic-specific articles that will be provided two weeks before the exam are the preparation materials.

If COVID travel restrictions are lifted by August and a student will be out of the country for the first two exam dates, will he/she be able to register for their preferred exam date?

The Comprehensive Exam is an oral exam conducted via Zoom. Online registration for an exam appointment will be released to all registered students at the same time via internet access.

Additional Information

Watch the MPH Comprehensive Exam Information Session recording and review the MPH Comprehensive Exam overview slides.

Have more questions? Email Cassie Nakamoto with additional questions. She will compile them, bring them to the MPH Comprehensive Exam committee for review and response.