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Departmental Guidelines for the PhD Written Preliminary Exam

New PhD written prelim requirement in BPP

Adopted 25 April 2006

The PhD preliminary exam for advancement to candidacy should be taken as stipulated by the Graduate School , currently "after completion of or while currently registered for all course work required by the program." The exam will consist of two portions: written and oral. The written part should be planned to immediately precede the oral prelim exam.

Written exam

The student writes a research proposal, limited in length to 20 pages, double spaced, and submitted three weeks in advance of the scheduled oral exam. The page limit does not include references, figures, and tables. Use a 12-point font and one-inch margins. Do not include a budget.

The purpose of the written exam in a proposal format is to allow the student to demonstrate the ability to assimilate a body of scientific literature, pose interesting and tractable questions, propose practical and effective methods for answering those questions, and demonstrate creativity and originality. We also hope that this process will help to build the basic skills required to write a successful research proposal.

The guidelines recommend that the major professor, in administering the exam, provide a format for the proposal used by a funding agency in the student's field of study.

The written exam should be approved if the student has successfully demonstrated the ability to assimilate a body of scientific literature, posed interesting and tractable questions, proposed practical and effective methods for answering those questions, and demonstrated creativity and originality. The proposal does not have to be fundable to warrant approval. The written exam should be rejected if it fails in any two categories.


1. The student chooses a subject for the proposal in consultation with the major professor. The subject may not be the same as the thesis topic.

2. The student submits a one page abstract or outline on the topic to the program committee for approval before the proposal is written.

3. The student obtains an abstract approval form from the Grad Studies Administrative Assistant.

4. The student consults with each program member individually and, on their approval, obtains each signature on the abstract approval form.

5. The student writes the proposal and submits it to the committee at least three weeks before the planned oral examination. Submit it as hard copy or electronically as desired by the committee members.

6. Within two weeks of the date that the proposal is submitted, the major professor solicits responses from the committee and delivers the conclusion to the student. Three options are available to the committee: approved, revise and resubmit, and rejection.

7. Upon approval of the written research proposal by the program committee, the student may proceed with the oral exam.

Oral exam

The oral exam of no less than two hours includes a one-hour defense of the proposal and a one-hour general oral exam covering subjects beyond the scope of the proposal.

The part of the oral exam concerning the proposal should test the student's ability to develop, research, and defend an original research idea. The originality of the proposal, the scholarly quality of the literature review, and the technical feasibility of the approach should be evaluated. In addition, the student should demonstrate a capacity for critical thinking and a broad command of their general and more specific field. Committee members are encouraged to incorporate ethics into the exam.

If committee members find that it is appropriate, two retests of the exam will be allowed, in keeping with Graduate School guidelines.