Written Comprehensive Examination

The Written Comprehensive Examination, a requirement of the Postdoctoral Master's Degree Program, demonstrates your ability to integrate and synthesize the core competencies of the program.

You are eligible for the Written Comprehensive Examination after your research proposal packet has been submitted to and approved by the Postdoctoral Programs Executive Committee, and within six months of completion of the following courses with a minimum 3.0 GPA:

  • CTSC 5010: Clinical Research Protocol Development (spring, fall)
  • CTSC 5370: Introduction to Epidemiology (summer, winter)
  • CTSC 5390: Advanced Applied Epidemiologic Methods (fall)
  • CTSC 5600: Statistics in Clinical and Translational Research (summer, winter)
  • CTSC 5601: Utilizing Statistics in Clinical Research (summer, spring)
  • CTSC 5610: Introductory Statistical Methods II (fall)

Note: Students are no longer required to complete CTSC 5690: Critical Appraisal of Statistical Methods in the Medical Literature and CTSC 5720: Clinical Trials — Design and Conduct before taking the Written Comprehensive Exam.

Scheduling your exam

The exam is typically offered the third Tuesday of January, April and September.

Registration is held each November for the following year, and is carried out with the program education specialist. Late registration is accepted up to six weeks before your proposed exam date.

Note: Exams are limited to 12 scholars a session. Plan accordingly and register early.

Once you are registered for your exam date, you will receive a confirmation email with the time and location of the exam. You will also be provided with the exam guidelines and a copy of a previous exam to review.

Exam details

The CCaTS Postdoctoral Programs Committee has approved these requirements for the Comprehensive Written Examination:

  • The exam is administered in a location with a computer and printer available. Answers are completed according to a pre-specified template.
  • The exam is administered on a computer. Use of books and notes are permitted. You are not permitted to search the internet or access electronic notes. Any class notes you want to use must be printed and bought with you. Please either leave your pager at home or turn it off. Smartphones, tablets and other computer devices are not allowed into the exam room.
  • You have six hours to complete the exam, with three hours devoted to each of the two exercises:
    • One session involves reviewing a journal article according to the Journal of the American Medical Association's "Users' Guides to the Medical Literature."
    • One session involves a hypothetical clinical problem. You are asked to define the research question and outline a research design that addresses this question.
  • The Written Comprehensive Examination may not be taken more than twice. In alignment with Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences policy (must be logged in to the Mayo Clinic network), failing the exam twice results in dismissal from the Postdoctoral Master's Degree Program.


Exam results take up to eight weeks. The CCaTS education specialist will notify you and your mentor of your exam results.

Grade categories are:

  • High pass
  • Pass
  • Fail

Members of the CCaTS Written Comprehensive Examination Subcommittee review the exams and provide written evaluations.

High pass

If you receive a high pass, you and your mentor will receive the Written Examination Report Form. The appropriate Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences form will be completed by CCaTS and forwarded to Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.


If you receive a pass, a 30-minute oral exam will take place within three to five days with several faculty members from the CCaTS Written Comprehensive Examination Subcommittee. The intent of this oral exam is to determine whether you have sufficiently mastered the core material, and it will not necessarily focus exclusively on the written examination.

Your exam grade will be determined based on the written and oral exams and forwarded to Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. The exam chair will recommend the final grade to the CCaTS Postdoctoral Programs Committee for approval (in consultation with the committee if there is a disagreement among the reviewers).


If you receive a failing grade on your exam (or the combined results of your written exam and subsequent oral exam, if applicable), you will meet with your mentor to develop a plan of remediation that addresses areas of deficiency and send your remediation plan to the education specialist.

You are required to retake the exam after the period of remediation, and it must be retaken within one year of the original exam date.