Information pertaining to the Qualifying Examination.

The primary purpose of the Qualifying Examination is to provide an early assessment of whether the student has the potential to develop the knowledge, skills, and attributes the program has defined in its formal Learning Objectives, including evidence of critical thinking skills, necessary for a successful researcher in the disciplinary field.

The Qualifying Examination is conducted early in a student’s program to ensure that the considerable investment of time, resources, and effort required by the student has a high likelihood of leading to completion of the Ph.D.

Additionally, the Qualifying Examination may assess if the student is well grounded in the fundamental knowledge of the discipline.

Qualifying Examination Requirements

  • The examination must be scheduled at least four (4) weeks prior to the date of the examination with the program's Graduate Program Coordinator.
  • To be eligible to take the Qualifying Examination the student must:
    • have earned at least 18 credits in courses eligible to be counted toward the graduate degree (these may be graduate credits earned previously at other recognized institutions from which transfer credits would be accepted) or the equivalent as determined and documented by the program;
    • have a grade-point average of 3.00 or greater for work done at the University while a graduate student;
    • have no incomplete or deferred grades; and
    • be in good academic standing and must be registered as a full-time or part-time graduate degree student for the semester (excluding summer session) in which the qualifying examination is taken.
  • All students must take the Qualifying Examination within three semesters (not counting the summer semester) of entry into the doctoral program.
    • Students who have been identified as master’s-along-the-way upon admission into the graduate program may be allowed an extension such that the three semester time limit will begin upon completion of the master’s degree.
    • Students pursuing dual-title degrees must take the Qualifying Examination within four semesters (not counting the summer semester) of entry into the doctoral program.

Qualifying Exam Committee

Each Ph.D. program (FORR, SOILS, WFS) has its own Qualifying Exam Committee and Qualifying Exam Chair. The three-member Qualifying Committee is comprised of two members selected by the program faculty and appointed by the department head on an annual basis; a third member is selected from one of the program area faculty members on the Graduate Program Committee (GPC). The GPC member acts as the Qualifying Exam Chair. If the student’s adviser is on the Qualifying Exam Committee, they need to find a substitute committee member for the exam, in consultation with Qualifying Exam Chair. In rare cases it is not possible for either of the two GPC members from the program to serve as chair, another member of the GPC will be asked to serve in that role. If the student is pursuing a dual-title degree program, a member of that program may have to be added to the Qualifying Exam Committee membership.  The student, adviser, and Qualifying Exam Chair should consult with the dual-title program guidelines when arranging for the exam.

The committee is expected to explore the student’s knowledge of the scientific method, problem-solving ability, and interpretation of experimental results. Responsibilities of the Qualifying Exam Chair include monitoring procedure and content, as well as participating in the questioning of the student and voting. The adviser will attend the exam, but will not participate in asking questions. The adviser will participate in the vote regarding the student's performance.

Assessment Of English Competency

The Assessment of English Competency will be made at the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination.  Candidates for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in FORR will be required to demonstrate a high level of competence in the use of the English language. Competence will be demonstrated by using proper vocabulary, spelling, grammar, sentence structure and punctuation, and by constructing answers in an understandable and organized manner.

The Qualifying Exam Committee determines if the student meets the English language requirement with an exam decision of “Satisfactory” or “Unsatisfactory”.  In the case of Unsatisfactory the committee decides upon any recommended remedial action.  The student maybe required to pass with at least a “B” grade courses recommended by the student’s Qualifying Exam Committee in consultation with the student’s adviser.  Potential recommended courses include ESL 114G (Basic) and/or ESL 116G (Reading and Writing) for students with English as a second language, while native speakers of English may be recommended for ENGL 202 (Effective Writing; with several topical sections) or ENGL 418 (Advanced Technical Writing and Editing). Once remedial requirements are fulfilled the student will be re-evaluated for the English competence component of the Ph.D. Qualifying Exam. If a student fails to demonstrate a high level of English competence at the second assessment, the Qualifying Exam Committee will recommend to the Director of Graduate Studies and Department Head that the student not be allowed to continue in a Ph.D. program.

Qualifying Exam Planning

FORR students should deliver a packet consisting of a CV, a copy of undergraduate and graduate transcripts (can be unofficial), abstracts of M.S. thesis and any publications, and goal statement from the admissions application to the committee at least four (4) weeks before the oral exam date.

The duration for the oral examination (including Assessment of English Competency) is 2 hours, with time allocated approximately equally among participating faculty. No more than one hour of questions should relate to the written submission used in the Assessment of English Competency. At the end of the questioning period, each of the three committee members will be asked to rate the candidate's performance. Additional questions concerning the examination should be directed to the thesis adviser or the program Qualifying Exam Chair.

Qualifying Exam Procedures

The Qualifying Exam will consist of a written and an oral evaluation. For the written evaluation the student will be given two papers (chosen in consultation with student’s adviser and Qualifying Exam Committee Chair) two weeks before the oral exam. One paper will be a scientific study and the other an opinion or “current topics” piece. The student will write an essay about each paper, addressing the following questions. The essay will be returned to the committee one week prior to the oral exam.

Questions for the scientific paper:

  • What are the specific hypotheses, objectives, or research questions put forth?
  • What methods are used? Are they appropriate for the research questions being addressed?
  • What are the major findings or results of the study?
  • How well are the findings supported by the evidence that is presented?
  • Are there alternative interpretations of the data or results that the author did not address?
  • Are the conclusions significant or interesting?
  • How does the paper relate to the research you are interested in doing?

Questions for the opinion piece:

  • What point are the writers trying to make? Why is it important?
  • What evidence do the authors present to support the argument and/or conclusions?
  • Is the author’s argument persuasive?
  • What arguments have been or might be made opposing the author’s arguments on the issue?

During the oral examination the committee will evaluate the student through questions and discussion.  Committee members will take turns asking questions that may be based on the students written responses, their basic scientific knowledge, or their critical thinking skills.  At the end of the oral exam the committee will vote on the exam outcome and assess the student based on their written and oral communication, understanding of the scientific method, and ability to think critically.

Results of Qualifying Exam

A two-thirds favorable vote of the Qualifying Exam Committee is required for successful completion of the Qualifying Examination.

Evaluation of Qualifying exam performance:

  • Pass without reservation.
  • Fail without reservation.
  • Fail with the opportunity to retake the examination at a later date. No more than one retake no later than one month following the first examination will be allowed.

Following the qualifying exam, regardless of the outcome, the exam committee will meet with the student and the adviser to review the outcomes of the exam and provide their recommendations on deficiencies to be addressed by the student. 

Reporting Results

The Qualifying Exam committee chair submits the Qualifying Examination results to the ESM Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Program Coordinator in writing immediately following the examination, including results of the assessment of English Competency. The Qualifying Exam committee chair also reports specific course deficiencies and other remedial actions recommended by the committee to the faculty adviser. Following passing of the Qualifying Exam, it is to the student’s benefit to soon form their Graduate Committee, which will provide additional guidance regarding course deficiencies, as well as recommended courses to be completed in their graduate program.  It is the responsibility of the adviser to ensure that stipulations from the Qualifying Examination are satisfied in the Graduate Academic Plan (GAP) form approved subsequently by the student’s committee.