Ph.D. Preliminary Examinations

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General: The purpose of the Ph.D. Preliminary Examinations is twofold: (1) to test the Ph.D. student’s knowledge and mastery of subjects specified on the Ph. D.  candidacy form, as exemplified by the candidate’s command of several fields or areas, and (2) to examine the candidate’s power of organization and ability to apply knowledge to new problems such as required to complete a satisfactory dissertation.

Before taking the Preliminary Examinations, students must have completed such course work as is deemed necessary by their department or program, and have completed a formal application for Ph.D. candidacy. Students also shall have satisfied such requirements in foreign languages and special skills as have been established. The Preliminary Examinations must be completed before the dissertation is accepted.

Timing and scheduling of the Exams: Preliminary Examinations should be completed within a period of four weeks. When an oral examination is included, the period of examination may be extended to five weeks. No Preliminary Examinations may be scheduled during the 30 days preceding December 15 or Commencement. No oral examinations may be scheduled during June, July or August. Because of the requirement that all Preliminary Examinations be completed within a period of five weeks if there is an oral exam (see the next paragraph), this means that in most cases no written examinations can be taken before the end of July. 

Examinations are scheduled by Ph.D. students through their department or program, often assisted by the department Academic Administrative Assistant.

Format of the Examinations: The normal format of Preliminary Examinations is 3-4 written examinations of 4 hours each, followed by an oral examination between one and two hours long. The following departments and programs have approved exceptions to this format: Chemistry, Mathematics and Physics as described in the GSAS Faculty Rules

Students who are completing the M.A. degree at the same time as they are taking the Ph.D. Preliminary Examinations may offer the final examination for the M.A. as one of the Preliminary Examinations. If this occurs the examination must include questions related to the M.A. thesis. 

Outcome of Preliminary Examinations is determined by a majority vote of the examiners. Dissenting examiners may file a minority report to the Dean. Preliminary Examinations may be graded "Satisfactory," "Partially Satisfactory," or "Unsatisfactory." In the case of "Partially Satisfactory" the Supervising Committee must specify what work is required to make up the deficiency and the deadline(s) for doing so. The chair of the Supervising Committee officially informs the Dean of what is required, and the Dean conveys the information in writing to the student. Deficiencies must be made up within one year of the first written examination, and before the dissertation can be submitted. In the case of one or more examinations graded "Unsatisfactory," the Supervising Committee may require the student to retake the examination(s) or may deny the student permission to continue for the Ph.D. Re-examinations must be successfully completed within one year of the first written examination. No examination may be retaken more than once. 

Students must complete all remaining requirements for the Ph.D. within 60 months of taking the first Preliminary Examination, or repeat one of the examinations at the Final Examination.

Preliminary Exam Guidelines for Outside Chair and Committee Members