Department of Psychology

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Brain, Behaviour & Cognitive Science Comprehensive Examination

Students in the BBCS program are normally expected to write the BBCS comprehensive exam. There are three areas in which the comprehensive exam can be written: Behavioural Neuroscience, Cognitive, and Perception & Action

Comprehensive exams are generally written by the end of June in PhD 2, although the specific date and time are to be determined by the student and supervisor. Students have a choice of writing a 4 hour in-class exam or a take-home exam that is to be written over a one week period. The take-home exam will be followed by an oral exam attended by all members of the student’s comprehensive examination committee. The oral exam will deal with the material covered on the take-home exam. Both the in-class and take-home exams consist of questions covering core and specialized material (see lists below). Students may elect to write a review paper in lieu of answering exam questions on the specialized material. The topic of the review paper will be selected in consultation with the supervisor and the examining committee. The review paper is due on the date that the written exam is completed

Students must inform the Comprehensive Exam Chair in their area (behavioural neuroscience, cognitive, or perception & action) of their intention to undertake the exam, at least one month prior to the exam date. The student should specify the format they have chosen (in class or take-home) and whether they will cover the specialized material in exam format or in a review paper. The Comprehensive Exam Chair is responsible for selecting members of the student’s comprehensive exam committee

All students will answer a total of 3 questions; 2 general questions and 1 specialization question. In the specialization section of the exam, students will be offered one question per area of specialization; the number and nature of the student’s area(s) of specialization will be predetermined by the student and his/her supervisor. Each student will answer only one of the specialization question(s) provided. In the general section of the exam, students will answer two general questions selected from a set of options

Specialized topics. The specialized topics are selected by the student in consultation with their supervisor and committee, approximately 4 months before the written exam

General topics. The general section of the exam will cover basic and advanced core topics and methods in Behavioural Neuroscience, Cognition, or Perception & Action. These topics are listed below separately for each area.

Behavioural Neuroscience

Basic Core Topics: neuroanatomy, neurochemistry, neurophysiology, neuroendocrinology, neuropharmacology, animal learning, sensory physiology, behavioural genetics, motor physiology, development of the nervous system

Basic Methodologies: ablations (e.g., chemical, electrical, thermal), stimulation (e.g., chemical, electrical), recording (e.g., EEG, 2-DG, microdialysis, electrochemistry, immunocytochemistry, in situ hybridization), behavioural observation (e.g., species-typical, conditioning, learning, etc.), genetic engineering (e.g., knockout, transgenetic, gene replacement), imaging (PET, SPECT, fMRI)

Advanced Core Topics: sensation and perception (olfaction, vision, audition, gustation, somatosensation), motivation and emotion (sexual behaviour, feeding, water balance, thermoregulation, maternal behaviour, aggression, reward), neuroplasticity (sensory tuning during development and adulthood, memory, recovery of function, learning in simple systems), language and laterality, rhythms (activity, sleep), clinical applications and models.


Major Topics: computation and cognition, attention, models of classification, learning, cognitive development, memory, knowledge, problem-solving, language processing and comprehension, organization of behaviour.

Basic Methodologies: behavioural techniques (e.g., experimental design, chronometric, error and protocol analysis), formal techniques (e.g., decision theory, Bayesian classification, logic, and information theory), computational techniques (e.g., symbol systems, neural network, and architectures), neural techniques (e.g., functional imaging).

Topics from Associated Disciplines: computer and information science, linguistics, mathematics and statistics, neuropsychology, perception & action.

Perception & Action

Major Topics within Modalities/Systems: vision, audition, touch (including cutaneous and haptic systems), kinesthesis / proprioception, vestibular system, chemical senses (gustation, olfaction), motor systems

Major Topics across Modalities/Systems: principles of perceptual organization, perceptual constancies, illusions and aftereffects, perceptual development, perception of space, perception of time, multimodal perception and intersensory integration, perception and action, cognitive influences

Topics from Associated Disciplines: cognitive psychology, computer & information science, neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, neuropsychology

Methodologies: behavioural techniques (e.g., psychophysics, information theory, chronometric methods), computational techniques, neuroscience techniques (e.g., neurophysiology, neuropsychology, functional imaging methods), using populations with sensory and/or motor deficits.


According to faculty guidelines, students must be informed of the outcome of their exam (pass or fail) within one month of its writing. If a student fails the exam, they must be provided with written reasons for the failure. In the case of failure, the student has the option of leaving the program or re-writing the exam. The re-write will use the same format as the original exam and will take place within four months of the original exam

The exam committee may also request that a student undergo an oral exam if further evaluation is necessary following either the first or second written exam. The oral exam should take place within two weeks of notification that the written exam was unsatisfactory. The members of the examining committee must be present at the oral exam. The questions on the oral exam will be limited to those that were on the written exam (including those which the student chose not to answer). Students must be informed of the outcome of the oral exam (pass or fail) within 24 hour of the exam. If they fail the oral exam following the first written exam, they have the option of leaving the program or re-writing the exam, as outlined above.