Preliminary Exam Expectations

The purpose of the preliminary exam is to determine if the student has identified a suitable problem, proposed a realistic approach to that problem, and has the tools and resources needed to complete the project.

The process is largely up to the advisor and the committee but must include a written exam from the entire committee and a public presentation of the proposal. The oral exam cannot be scheduled until the written exam has been satisfactorily completed; the request must be submitted at least 2 weeks prior to the proposed date. The student must ensure all committee members, including the Graduate School Representative, can attend at the date and time specified.

Each student should discuss with the committee chair the process and timing of the prelim exam well in advance of the actual event. A rule of thumb is to conduct the exam in the last semester of expected course work. It is the chair’s responsibility to discuss the process and expectations of the committee members and the student and to ensure the exam can highlight any academic shortcomings of the student. It is the student’s responsibility to clarify the expectations of the committee members and to ensure their availability.

Two primary approaches to the written exam are multiple tests and a single test. The committee chair may elect to have each committee member prepare a written exam. The
complexity and duration of these individual exams are at the discretion of each committee member but the chair should ensure that collectively, the exams challenge all aspects of the proposed research in a fair manner. The student consults with each committee member to determine the start and end dates of the exam. The committee chair may alternatively elect to have each committee member submit 2-3 potential questions to the chair who then assembles the exam to cover all aspects of the area and avoids duplication. With advice from committee members, the chair determines the allowed time for the exam. In either approach, all questions and response should be seen by all committee members.

Written Preliminary Exam Processes

Multiple Tests Single Test

Every member prepares separate exam Every member suggests 2-3 questions
Chair reviews exams to ensure coverage Chair selects from all to ensure coverage
Student schedules each exam considering
faculty availability

Committee reviews proposed exam

Each member declares response

Committee sees all responses, declares
“acceptable” to own items