Preliminary Examination

The Preliminary Examination for the PhD degree is an oral examination administered by the candidate's doctoral committee.

  • The first stage of the PhD degree program must have been completed, which consists of completion of the MS degree and passing the Qualifying Examination, before the Preliminary Examination can be taken.
  • The Preliminary examination must be taken between nine months and five years before the Final Examination.
  • Also, the examination may be taken no earlier than the semester in which the candidate completes the 24th hour of coursework required in the second stage of the PhD program.
  • The candidate must submit the thesis proposal to the doctoral committee at least two weeks prior to the Preliminary Examination. The thesis proposal must be no longer than 23 pages (references not included in the page count), 11 pt font (minimum), and single-spaced with 1 inch margins. The proposal must outline the problem to be studied for the PhD degree, the procedures to be used in attacking the problem, work already completed on the chosen problem, and the additional work proposed to be completed. The proposal also must include a tenative title for the thesis.

The Preliminary Examination is intended to test the validity of the thesis proposal and the candidate's fitness to carry out the research work proposed. Typically, it begins with a short presentation by the candidate, outlining the problem chosen, the procedures and methods to be used, the work already completed, and the additional work proposed to be completed for the PhD degree. The committee then questions the candidate regarding the problem, the preliminary results, and the proposed work. The candidate may be asked to clarify matters in the thesis proposal and to defend various aspects of the work already completed or the work being proposed. The committee may suggest alternative methods of attacking the problem or suggest different aspects of the problem as suitable areas for exploration. The committee also may ask questions of a more general nature in order to test the adequacy of the candidate's preparation for the proposed research.

At the conclusion of the examination, the committee deliberates privately, and the chairperson of the committee informs the candidate of one of four possible decisions:

  • The candidate passed the Preliminary Examination and may proceed to independent study and research for the doctoral degree.
  • The examination is temporarily adjourned, and the candidate must revise the thesis proposal and be examined again within six months.
  • The candidate failed, but may submit a new thesis proposal and take another Preliminary Examination after completing additional coursework, independent study, or research;
  • The candidate failed and will not be admitted to another examination.