Relationship between Comprehensive Examination Requirement in Clinical Psychology Doctoral Programs and Score on the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology

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Doctoral programs in clinical psychology that require comprehensive examinations tend to have graduates with lower scores on the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). The use of comprehensive examinations within professional school programs was associated with significantly lower scores on the EPPP Total Score, Subtest I (Assessment), and Subtest IV (Legal/Ethical/Professional). Professional schools were more likely to have comprehensive examinations if they were not APA approved and if they were free-standing. Professional programs as a group were more likely to require comprehensive examinations than traditional programs. It was suggested that comprehensive examinations may provide the appearance of quality control rather than actual quality control. The ecological validity of comprehensive examinations was questioned.

Comprehensive examinations have traditionally been regarded as a necessary, albeit feared, quality control mechanism by which students unable to master and integrate a vast quantity of knowledge are weeded out so that only the fittest survive. The need for comprehensive examinations in doctoral education in psychology has been challenged. Marshall (1993) maintained that the historical roots of comprehensive examinations originated in an era when there were no course work requirements, and that the standardization o/course work in modern graduate education makes the comprehensive examination an anachronistic obstacle to effective training. It has been contended that comprehensive examinations are potentially harmful because they force students into a myth of closure regarding the knowledge in the field that needs to be acquired (Manus, Bowden & Dowd, 1992; Wolensky, 1979). It has been maintained that the vagueness of the purpose of the examination and how to study for it produces unnecessary anxiety in graduate students (Andersen, Krauskopf, Rogers, & Neal, 1984; Heiss, 1970).

Unfortunately, the usefulness of comprehensive examinations has been a matter of stated opinion rather than empirically established fact. The purpose of the present study was to relate presence versus absence of comprehensive examinations in clinical psychology doctoral programs to the mean score of program graduates on an objective criterion, mean score on the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). Licensing (or bar) examinations have long been recognized as one criterion of success of graduates in other professions such as medicine (Barzansky, Jonas, & Etzel, 1995) and law (Myers, 1996). In recently published research it was found that clinical psychology programs that had more elite student acceptance criteria, fewer students, a smaller ratio of students to core faculty, a greater research orientation, and American Psychological Association approval, had higher EPPP mean scores (Yu, Rinaldi, Templer, Colbert, Siscoe, & Van Patten, 1997; Templer &Tomeo, 1998).


Whether or sot a clinical psychology program requires comprehensive examinations was determined by the Guide to Graduate Studies in Psychology (APA, 1992). Mean EPPP score from 1988 to 1995 was obtained from Educational Reporting Service (1995). [The same source used by Yu (1997) and Templer and Tomeo (1998).] Clinical psychology programs not listed in either or both of the sources were not included in the analysis. In addition to total score, the EPPP provides five subtest scores.


Comprehensive examinations are required in 49 (27.5%) of the 178 programs. Comprehensive examinations are required in 18 (40.9%) of the 44 professional programs in contrast to 31 (23.1%) of the 134 traditional programs, [chi square] (1) = 5.25, p [is less than] .025. Table 1 displays the point-biserial correlation coefficients between the bivariate of use vs. non-use of comprehensive examinations and EPPP scores. It is apparent that there is a significant, but low tendency for clinical psychology programs that do not use comprehensive examinations to have higher EPPP total scores. …