Preliminary Exam

Schedule for Exam

The preliminary exam is taken after the completion of course work and all language requirements. It should be taken by the sixth semester of residence or, at the latest, at the very beginning of the seventh semester of residence.

Graduate School regulations are specific in the matter of timing of the preliminary exam: Ordinarily, a student registered for full-time study should pass preliminary exam by the end of the third year. A student who has not passed the exam by this time must file with Dean of the Graduate School a statement, approved by the DGS explaining the delay and setting a date for the exam. Except under highly unusual circumstances, extensions will not be granted beyond the middle of the fourth year. Credit is not generally allowed for graduate courses or foreign language exams that are more than six years old at the date of the preliminary exam. Similarly, credit will not be allowed for a preliminary exam that is more than five years old at the date of the final exam. In cases of exceptional merit, the Dean of the Graduate School may extend these limits. Should either of these limits be exceeded without the Dean’s permission, students must submit to the Dean specific mechanisms for revalidating credits or exams.


The preliminary exam consists of two distinct parts – a written exam and an oral defense of the written exam answers:

First, you will develop a bibliography of works from your major and minor fields in preparation for the preliminary exam with your committee. Then, your adviser solicits questions for the exam from all the members of the student’s committee.

Written exams are TWELVE hours in length, and will be taken on two separate days in the AAHVS Department. Generally, questions for six hours of the exam will be set by your major adviser. Questions for the other six hours of the exam will be solicited from the other committee members. The written exams must be defended orally by the student within two weeks of their taking. Oral exams will be approximately two hours in length. Should the student’s performance be considered unsatisfactory after this exam, the student will have failed. He or she may apply to retake the preliminary exam as provided in the Graduate School regulations.

Optional - M.A. Degree

After completing the first oral exam, a student has the option to petition the supervisory committee to be awarded a M.A. degree on the condition that the student has met the minimum requirements for it (30 units of degree credit, at least 24 of which must be graded coursework). The awarding of the M.A. degree will be at the discretion of the supervisory committee and in consultation with the DGS. After the completion of Graduate School requirements, a M.A. degree may also be awarded to those students whose work does not indicate continuation towards a Ph.D. degree.

The second half of the preliminary exam focuses on your dissertation prospectus. This takes the form of an oral exam, approximately 1-2 hours in length, that focuses on a previously submitted formal dissertation prospectus developed by the candidate in conjunction with your dissertation director. This second oral exam on the dissertation prospectus will be scheduled from two weeks to no later than two months after the written exams. Exceptions must be approved in writing by the DGS.

The prospectus of 10-15 pages will be developed by the candidate in close consultation with the Chair of the committee, and will have been read and commented upon by the Chair prior to its being circulated to other members of the committee. The purpose of the oral discussion on the prospectus is to explore the larger intellectual project represented by the dissertation prospectus; it is entirely independent of the written exams.

Once the committee has met with the candidate to discuss the dissertation prospectus, it will determine whether the candidate is prepared to proceed to the dissertation stage. If at least two members of the committee feel that the candidate is unprepared to proceed, the dissertation prospectus will be revised in consultation with the committee and will be re-submitted for a second discussion. If for a second time, more than one member of the committee feels that the candidate does not have a viable dissertation project, the candidate will be deemed not to have qualified for the dissertation stage. It is understood, however, that such disqualification must center on the dissertation prospectus.