Qualifying Exam Requirements and Assessment Guidelines for Doctoral Programs


The qualifying examination is designed to assess students’ understanding of core concepts and preparedness to pursue advanced study related to a dissertation topic. The qualifying examination is administered to provide doctoral students with the opportunity to demonstrate their level of knowledge in a selected field of study and to synthesize that knowledge into a professionally written paper. Questions are designed around students’ core coursework. However, the committee members have discretion in how they choose to assess students’ knowledge and preparedness. Qualifying exams may be taken upon completion of minimum program requirements and advisor approval.

Qualifying Exam Questions

The Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction program has students develop and respond to qualifying examination questions designed around the following prompts:

  1. Cognate (minor) Area Question(s).
  2. Emphasis (major) Area Question(s).
  3. Educational Research Area (dissertation study) Question(s) [at the oral defense, the student should be prepared to discuss how an inquiry process to study these concerns might be designed and executed].

Qualifying Exam Procedures

It is the responsibility of the student to indicate to their program committee chair their readiness to take the qualifying exam. This should be done at least one month prior to the date that the student intends to begin their qualifying exam. Students may begin developing their qualifying examination questions and commence their qualifying exams upon completion of minimum program requirements and advisor approval. The department recommends that students be enrolled in no more than six (6) credits during the examination semester.

Students should submit a draft of possible questions to their chair. The chair will then revise and formulate the questions collaboratively with the student. The entire doctoral committee must approve the three final qualifying exam questions. Once all parties agree on a final version of the questions, the student will have four (4) weeks to complete responses to the questions.

In some instances, students may opt to complete these responses on campus during business hours. On campus qualifying examination question responses are generally completed over a span of not more than five (5) working days, usually three (3). Students write their answer to one (1) question each day (where a “day” means four (4) hours). Students are assigned a campus computer workspace to use and are permitted to bring a single page of references containing the works they want to cite in their responses. Students should consult with the chair to determine what the expectation will be in this regard.

Qualifying Exam Review and Defense

On the four (4) week deadline, the student should submit the completed questions to the chair, who will forward them to committee members for review. Committee members have ten (10) working days to read the question responses and forward their assessment on each response to the chair as follows:

  1. Pass with distinction;
  2. Acceptable/pass, pass with modest revision prior to the oral defense, or pass with modest revisions after the oral defense; or,
  3. Unacceptable/fail.

Within two (2) weeks of the submission of the completed responses, the chair will schedule a date and time for the oral defense. In consultation with the Doctoral Studies Office, the student should secure the room for the defense and inform the committee of the location. The committee will make its final decision and communicate it to the student immediately following the oral defense. The committee's decision must be unanimous.

If the committee vote is not unanimous, the student may request a second examination from the department. The student must wait at least three (3) months before attempting the second examination. The chair and/or committee members may require the student to address specific additional academic directives in the revision process. The qualifying examination must be completed successfully before students can begin working on their dissertation proposal. The qualifying exam may be retaken one time.

It is permissible for students to see examples of departmental qualifying examination questions and completed responses to them prior to taking the exam. These examples can be secured from the student’s chair, committee members, and/or the Doctoral Studies Office.