MA Applied Anth Comprehensive Exam

The following information/syllabus pertains to ANTH 691 Comprehensive Exam for Spring 2022 and Fall 2022.


The instructor for this course is the Anthropology Gradaute Coordinator and your faculty advisor - please contact them with any questions.


Students work toward the completion of the comprehensive examination with guidance from faculty. Comprehensive exams are generally completed during student’s final semester in MA program. (Credit/No Credit)


Upon successfully completing this course, students will demonstrate:

Course Learning Outcomes

  1. Articulate expertise in three areas: (1) applied anthropology as a whole, (2) in a subdiscipline of interest, (3) and in a focus area - for each area, generate a 25 entry annotated bibliography composed of relevant scholarly literature.
  2. Pass a three-part comprehensive exam that tests knowledge in the three areas and demonstrates mastery of the program learning outcomes.
  3. Conform to professional academic standards of writing, honesty, and attribution of sources using the American Psychological Association format and citation guide.
Related Applied Anthropology MA Program Learning Outcomes (PLO’s) and what you will do in this class to demonstrate them (SLO’s)
  • PLO 1: Communicate substantive knowledge of the field of applied anthropology, and adeptly apply disciplinary principles, theories, methods and approaches to address complex issues within academic and non-academic settings.
    • Identify realms where anthropology can be applied, and explain and evaluate the contributions of anthropological approaches therein. (SLO 1a)
    • Critically apply relevant anthropological principles, theories, methods and approaches to practical and research problems.(SLO 1b)
  • PLO 2: Demonstrate expertise in a focus area; evaluate, design, and apply meaningful research in that area. 
    • Explain core concepts and evaluate research/applied projects within a focus area of anthropology. (SLO 2a)
    • Develop a professional research or project proposal within a focus area of anthropology. (SLO 2b)
  • PLO 3: Employ a wide range of graduate level academic and professional skills enabling one to function effectively in academic and non-academic settings.
    • Design an event, program, project, and/or resource to engage the public, stakeholders and/or clients in a domain in which anthropology is applied. (SLO 3b)
    • Design and/or implement anthropological work (field/lab/case/project) that competently utilizes methods, materials, and technology, and that evinces skilled communication and teamwork. (SLO 3b)  
  • PLO 4: Demonstrate professional ethics and social responsibility in anthropological practice. 
    • Recognize ethical issues in past and present contexts where anthropological approaches are applied, and model ethical practices and social responsibility in anthropological work. (SLO 4)
  • PLO 5: Demonstrate critical awareness of our globalized world and recognize multiculturalism and diversity as fundamental characteristics.
    • Recognize diverse perspectives and employ cultural humility and broad-mindedness when engaging with colleagues, Tribes, disenfranchised communities, community partners, and other stakeholders. (SLO 5a)
    •  Identify inequities in one’s field of practice and work to rectify them through engaging diverse perspectives. (SLO 5b)

Related Cal Poly Humboldt Master’s Student Institutional Learning Outcomes (ILO’s)

  • Develop specialized field knowledge and integrated knowledge across content areas. (ILO 1)
  • Evaluate a range of viewpoints embedded within varying frameworks that may include temporal, cultural, linguistic, sociopolitical, or technological contexts. (ILO 2)
  • Engage in critical inquiry using effective search and evaluation strategies. (ILO 3)
  • Integrate knowledge and practice through application of disciplinary or interdisciplinary learning across a variety of contexts. (ILO 4)
  • Communicate ideas effectively to multiple audiences orally and in writing. (ILO 5)
  • Reason ethically in evaluating various perspectives, policies, and/or practices relevant to one's field of study. (ILO 6)
  • Demonstrate research knowledge, practices, and dispositions associated with equity and social, racial, economic, and environmental justice as these apply to effective practices in the discipline. (ILO 7)


You will be added to a Canvas course for the exam during the semester that you take the exam - Canvas is where you will find detailed exam/course information and submit assignments.

The exam course will include completeing assignments leading up to the exam (annotated bibliographies) and taking the exam - these are described below. You are expected to visit the course Canvas, complete assignments, and regularly discuss your progress with your advisor.  

Part 1: Establish Areas

Students on the Comprehensive Exam Track shall build an annotated bibliography and take exams in three areas of anthropology. Area 1 shall be, for all students, Applied Anthropology in general. Area 2 shall be sub-discipline specific (e.g., archaeology, biological anthropology, cultural anthropology, bioarchaeology).  The third area shall be focus-specific (e.g., historic preservation, skeletal biology). The student shall select Areas 2 and 3 in consultation with their MA advisor - this should usually be done early on in the program, and no later than one semester prior to enrolling in ANTH 691. Note that advisors may require that Area 2 is more specific than the general sub-discipline areas noted above.

  • Area 1: Comprehensive, covers material broadly applicable to Applied Anthropology
  • Area 2: Sub-discipline specific
  • Area 3: Focus-specific (individual area of research/career interest)

Part 2: Generate an Annotated Bibliography

  • Students should begin working on their annotated bibliography early in the program so they are prepared to submit a solid draft at the beginning of the semester in which they enroll in ANTH 691.
  • After establishing exam areas and gaining advisor approval, the student shall compile an annotated bibliography on the subject matter, with at least 25 entries per exam section unless otherwise specified by the advisor. It will be primarily the responsibility of the student to search the literature and populate the bibliography with sufficient sources as to demonstrate competence in the subject matter, but the advisor may also assign specific sources that must be included.
  • Use peer-reviewed books or journals (periodicals). Primary literature (journal articles) should be your primary sources. The Humboldt library catalog and Google Scholar are good places to start searching. Internet: Be very cautious of non-peer-reviewed information. It is generally not acceptable to cite non-peer-reviewed information to support claims in your academic work; however, such information can be used to demonstrate other things, such as state of general knowledge on a topic. In some cases, non-peer-reviewed sources, such as ethnographies, are appropriate to include. Please consult your advisor if you have any question as to the appropriateness of specific sources.
ANNOTATION FORMAT: Compile the annotations three documents (one per exam area). For each annotation:
  1. Begin with a bibliographic citation (in a style used in your discipline – consult your advisor).
  2. Summarize the reading and the key point(s), argument(s), or topic(s) covered. The summary is not an abstract or list (“it covered A, then B, then C”), but instead will require you to engage with the reading enough to be able to clearly identify the key elements, with an emphasis on those most relevant/interesting to you (“key topics covered were A & B, especially the X, Y, Z aspects of A, which are such and such…”). The summary should be at least half of your annotation.
  3. Assess/Reflect on the reading with regard to its purpose/goal/relevance within the discipline and your current/future work. The assessment can be integrated with the summary or be placed at the end.


  • Make it concise: Be specific and detailed - remove vague/redundant/unhelpful statements.
  • Avoid excessive critique: These annotations are not meant to be critiques of the author's writing style, but rather a consideration of the material.
  • Avoid quotations: This should be your thoughts & words. If you do use quotes, include "quotation” marks and page number(s).
  • Write well: Demonstrate growth in skilled analysis of literature and professional-level writing.
  • Avoid fluff: It is not necessary to repeat the citation, article title, or indicate the employment position of the author in the annotation summary/reflection, unless for some reason the latter is directly relevant
  • Each annotation should be 200-400 words
  • Summarize the reading and the key point(s), argument(s), or topic(s) covered. The summary is not an abstract or list (“it covered A, then B, then C”), but instead will require you to engage with the reading enough to be able to clearly identify the key elements, with an emphasis on those most relevant/interesting to you (“key topics covered were A & B, especially the X, Y, Z aspects of A, which are such and such…”). The summary should be at least half of your annotation.
  • Make it useful as a reference for your work. Include details you want to remember.


  • Preliminary drafts (due throughout the program): Students should submit drafts/sections of their annotated bibliography periodically for approval of progress, appropriate breadth and depth, and correct format. This may correspond with assignments in the core courses and should also occur independently.
  • Complete draft (near the beginning of the semester in which the exam is taken): This should be a substantial (nearly or fully complete) draft that evinces that the student will to be prepared to successfully complete the bibliography and exam.
  • Final draft (usually due at least two weeks prior to the exam date): This should be the final annotated bibliography, properly formatted and evincing competence in the areas of study and readiness to take the exam.

Part 3: Take the Exam

There will be one scheduled exam date and time each semester near the end of the semester, generally over a weekend approximately 2-3 weeks prior to the end of the semester. The specific date of the exam will be communicated with students in advance.

The advisor, in collaboration with the graduate coordinator, will assign exam prompts to each student that represent the three areas (applied anthropology, sub-discipline, and focus). The specific format of the exam (i.e., the number and type of questions) may vary for each student based on their sub-discipline and focus, but the overall exam will be comparable in expected work to complete. 

Typically, students will have a total of at least 72 hours (3 calendar days) to complete the exam once the prompts are provided. However, this is subject to alteration at the discretion of the advisor (with approval from the Graduate Coordinator and Department Chair) if, for example, the exam sections for Area 2 or 3 include an agreed-upon practical component. 


  • Honesty: By undertaking the exam, students agree to comply with all regulations pertaining to academic honesty (see the Cal Poly Humboldt guidelines on Academic and Scholarly Honesty). Collaboration or communication specifically regarding any portion of the exam, with any current or former M.A. Applied Anthropology students or other individuals, is strictly prohibited.
  • Format: Specific format guidelines will be provided on the exam. The general format is double-spaced, standard font and margins, and APA style for headings, in-text citations, and reference lists.
  • Support: Substantial supporting in-text citations from numerous peer-reviewed sources are expected throughout each essay and in a reference list (bibliography) at the end of each essay.  
  • Length: As a general guideline, the entire exam submission should encompass at least 4,000 words. Specific guidelines for each essay will be provided on the exam. While conforming to counts, students should focus on content and quality - meeting the minimum does not guarantee a passing score, and excessive length that distracts from a cohesive answer is also not recommended.


  • The comprehensive examination assesses a student’s ability to integrate knowledge of the area, show independent and critical thinking, and demonstrate mastery of the subject matter. The results evidence independent thinking, appropriate organization, critical analysis, and accuracy of documentation.
  • At least two faculty members (you advisor and one other faulty member from the program) must certify to the success or failure of the student in the examination.
  • Each portion will be graded separately – you must earn an 80% in each portion to pass exam and to earn a grade of Credit for the course.
  • If a grade of No Credit is earned, the course must be retaken to pass.

The following additional guidelines apply:

  1. Students become eligible to attempt the examination during the semester in which all required coursework will be completed.
  2. A student must have advanced to candidacy before they can be given permission by the department to take the ANTH 691 exam.
  3. If a student does not pass the examination on the first attempt, they will receive a grade of No-Credit for the exam.  If they wish to re-attempt they will be required to register for the examination again the next available term. These additional units may not be counted as units toward the master’s degree.
  4. The second attempt is defined as retaking the entire exam or, at the discretion of the department, a supplementary examination on any part or parts of the first examination that the student failed. Subsequent attempts may also include alternate and/or additional questions that may require additional annotated bibliography entries and other preparation in advance – thus, students are strongly advised to take the first attempt seriously.
  5. Students may not take the comprehensive examination more than twice. Failure of the second attempt of the comprehensive examination results in the disqualification from the program in that department.


University Deadlines for Culminating Experience Submission

Forms documenting satisfactory completion of comprehensive examinations are due in the Academic Programs/Graduate Studies office by 5 p.m. on the relevant deadline.

  • The current semeter deadline is indicated on the Graduate Studies website.
  • The Graduate Coordinator will file the result of each examination with the Office of Graduate Studies.
  • Examination questions and responses are kept according to the CSU records retention policy.

University Policies & Resources

Emergency Procedures


  • Please contact your advisor ASAP if you have questions or concerns, or just want to chat about course material. You can contact your instructor via email, phone, or during scheduled online and in-person office hours.
  • For technical questions, such as the suitability of your home computer for the course, installing plug-ins, problems with your password, etc., contact the Humboldt Help Desk at or 707-826-4357.