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PhD Area Exams

Faculty Responsibility

Dissertation directors and supervisory committee members should do everything within their power to encourage their students to complete these Area Exams at the earliest possible date. The ideal for these exams is the maximum freedom for the faculty and the students to expedite completion of the PhD

Normal Schedule and Satisfactory Progress

These exams are preparatory; they were designed as a transition between course work and the dissertation; and their primary function is to facilitate and expedite the student’s progress with the dissertation. As students choose area studies, they should be compiling lists of texts and materials with an eye toward preparing for these exams and forming a dissertation committee as early as possible.

The following recommendations should serve as guidelines and not as absolute requirements.

The GSC recommends that the Area Exams be structured so that they can be taken within a semester or a semester and a summer; therefore, the reading lists for the exams should be such that the student can reasonably complete the work within that time.

The number and kinds of texts will vary with each specified area, depending on the length and difficulty of the reading involved. Remember that there are six years of aid, that satisfactory progress in the program for full-time students means completing the MA by the summer after the second year and completing 21 hours of courses beyond the MA (7 courses) in 3 semesters. Teaching Assistants should consider a minimum GPA of 3.5 as the expected norm for course performance.

The GSC recommends that the Area Exams be completed no later than the end of the ninth semester (the fall of the third [PhD]/fifth year [MA + PhD]), preferably by the end of the eighth (the spring of the second/fourth year).

Students and dissertation directors should become concerned and take action to rectify the situation if the exams are taking longer than this specified norm. See the “Sample Programs” section of this Handbook

Formal Requirements of the Exam Structure

The Department requires two Area Exams, each with an appropriate reading list. Because of Graduate School requirements for admission to candidacy, there must be at least one oral and one written portion. Each committee has the right to tailor these exams to the student’s particular circumstances. Normally the dissertation prospectus is discussed and evaluated at one or more of these exams.

The minimum requirement for admission to candidacy is therefore examination in the two areas in which at least part of one is written and part of one is oral (to fulfill Graduate School requirements). The simplest scenario would be to have one written exam plus an oral exam. The maximum scenario would involve an initial formal meeting with the entire committee prior to approval of the area reading lists, two written exams with an oral portion to each. Exams should fall within these limits. In order to promote maximum communication, prevent surprises, and help the students practice for job interviews, oral exams may (but are not required to) accompany each written exam. Students should be advised to keep in contact with all members of their committees, even if periodic orals are not scheduled. The GSC review of these exams is usually delegated to the supervisory committee.

Note that the group of people who are present for at least one oral must be the group that signs the Admission to Candidacy form, even if this oral is the first exam administered. Because the faculty present at this oral might not be available when the second exam has been completed, we propose that all members present at the oral exam sign the Admission to Candidacy form at the time of the oral and leave it on file to be dated when the final exam has been passed. Alternatively, there may be an explicit agreement among the five faculty members that the Admission to Candidacy form may legitimately be circulated for signatures at the time the student passes the second examination. The member of the committee from outside the Department must be apprised of either procedure and agree to it ahead of time. If a faculty member serves as a substitute on the oral exam for a member of the committee (e.g., because the regular faculty member is on leave), that substitution must be indicated on the Admission to Candidacy form. If this procedure is not followed, the committee must be formally reconstituted at some later point.