All MA students (regardless of whether they write a thesis) must pass a four-hour written comprehensive written examination covering five subject areas corresponding to the five required MA courses: phonetics, phonology, morphology/syntax, semantics/pragmatics and diachronic linguistics. The MA comprehensive is given once per semester; the fall sitting is in November while the spring sitting is in February. The graduate assistant will inform students of the exact dates each semester, and students will be asked to sign up for the exam sitting. The exam is administered in a computer lab on campus, and completed exams are submitted electronically.

Students typically take the exam in the last semester of MA study but occasionally students defending an MA thesis in the spring will opt to take the MA comprehensive exam in the preceding fall. An oral examination may be added as part of the comprehensive examination at the request of either the student or the departmental examination committee. The student must be registered for the semester in which the exam is taken. Sample exams are available from the Department office. The Department encourages students to form MA comprehensive exam study groups.