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Policies and Procedures for Qualifying Examinations

PhD students are expected to take initiative and remain in active consultation with faculty concerning the content, dates, scheduling, and so forth of Qualifying Exams. The complete formal requirements for Qualifying Exams are laid out in the Graduate Bulletin. They are, in full:

The faculty advisory committee in the student’s field sets and supervises the qualifying examination after the student has completed all residency requirements. The exam consists of a total of 12 hours of written exams, which are divided into 3 or more parts, followed by an oral exam, all taken within a 3-week period. The exam is initially taken in its entirety, but it may be retaken once as a whole or in part at the discretion of the faculty committee.

Some explanations of key terms in the above requirements.

"Faculty Advisory Committee": Or colloquially, the "Exam Committee." This is the advisory committee assigned to a student upon entering the PhD program. Initially, the committee consists of 3 faculty members from the Department of Religious Studies. By the time exams are taken, it often also include a representative from the student’s minor area. The faculty advisory committee assigned when a student begins her/his program is not fixed: a student may add or replace members. At the time exams are taken, the minimum requirements for the Committee, as defined by the Graduate School, are as follows:

The advisory committee must include at least two members from the major area and one from another. At least two members of the advisory committee must be members of the graduate faculty.

In practice, the Advisory Committee at the time of Exams usually consists of 3-4 members, with one representing the student’s PhD Minor.

"all residency requirements”: Before taking exams, students are expected to have completed all required courses and 90 hours of coursework, plus language requirements. In certain cases, a student may be allowed, at the discretion of the Advisory Committee and the DGS, to complete a requirement and take exams simultaneously, or to complete a residency requirement in a semester following the exams.

Example of such discretionary scenarios might include:

Number and Nature of the Qualifying Exams

Exams must have at least three parts, and can total no more than 12 hours total. Those 12 hours can be distributed in whatever manner the student and her/his Advisory Committee see fit.

The Department of Religious Studies does not have a uniform set of required exams. All exams are specific to each individual student. The precise reading lists, nature of the exam questions, and so forth, are determined by the Advisory Committee in close consultation with the student.

In practice, students pursuing similar courses of study may take similarly-patterned exams. Students should keep in mind, however, that previous students’ exams are not a reliable guide to any current student’s exam needs or requirements.

Best Practices Timeline for Exams

It is assumed that students who enter the PhD program with an MA will take exams at the end of the Spring semester/early Summer of their 3rd year in the PhD program. (Students entering with a BA only should plan on taking exams in the Fall semester of the 4th year.) Students may take exams sooner or later if the student and Advisory Committee deem it advisable.

The timeline for exams, therefore, works backwards from a typical May exam date (for students entering with an MA).

May of 1st year in program Student consults with Advisory Committee. Student and Committee discuss student’s progress towards the degree and lay out a tentative scheme for exams (i.e. begin to discuss the number of exams and the basic exam areas).
December of 2nd year in program Student consults with Advisory Committee. Minor area has been determined by this point. Scheme for exams is firmer.
May of 2nd year in program Student consults with Advisory Committee. Scheme for exams is firm; reading lists and exam parameters established.
from May of 2nd year-December of 3rd year Study for exams; ironing out kinks in reading lists and exam parameters.
January of 3rd year Student and Advisory Committee consult with DGS and Graduate Secretary to determine exam date (ideally, May).
2 weeks prior to date of first exam Exams submitted to DGS and Graduate Secretary