Graduate: PhD Program
Doctoral Preliminary Exam
Each PhD student must pass the doctoral preliminary exam, which consists of both a written and oral component. The written part is scheduled and prepared by a committee appointed by the DGS in consultation with the student’s advisor and the Department Head. The oral part is conducted by the dissertation committee.
Unanimous approval is required for passing the preliminary examination. Students must pass both the written and oral parts to pass the preliminary exam.
The written component of the preliminary exam is typically taken in May after the completion of the first year of study. Students with strong backgrounds should take the written component of the exam in August prior to the start of their first year or in January after their first semester. These exams are typically administered in January, May, and August, based on demand. (Note: In previous years, these were called the Qualifying exams.)
The written component consists of two area exams, chosen from:
- Mathematical Analysis
- Linear Algebra and Matrix Theory
- Mathematical Statistics.
Each area exam is a three hour written exam, created and graded by a committee of three faculty members appointed by the DGS. Three possible scores are available on each area exam: PhD Pass, MA Pass, and Fail. The committee must submit a Preliminary Exam Evaluation Form after each area exam attempt. A score of PhD Pass is required on both area exams in order to pass the written component of the preliminary exam at the PhD level. Each area exam committee is responsible for establishing the format and grading criteria that are appropriate for the exam. Students with solid background from their prior program are encouraged to take these exams as early as possible. A score of MA Pass or Fail on any area exam may jeopardize continued funding. Old area exams and topic lists are available in the Department Library in Petty 116.
A score of MA Pass or Fail on an area exam does not constitute failure of the preliminary exam. For satisfactory progress in the program, students must complete both area exams with a score of PhD Pass prior to the start of their third semester. All students must pass both area exams with a score of Ph.D. Pass prior to the start of the fifth semester to stay in the program.
The oral component of the preliminary exam is administered by the dissertation committee, typically in the third year of study. The oral exam may take place at any time after the dissertation committee has been chosen and 75% of the coursework contained in the program of study has been completed, but at the latest on the day of the dissertation topic proposal.
The questions may cover any subject the committee deems relevant for the student’s chosen areas of study. Some committees may choose to administer the oral exam directly following the defense of the dissertation topic. Others may choose to give the oral exam on an earlier date. It is recommended, but not required, that the committee creates a topics list with references outlining the scope of the oral exam that is shared with the student in advance. The committee must evaluate the oral exam and decide on one of three options.
- The committee unanimously agrees that the work was satisfactory. This constitutes a score of Pass on the oral component of the preliminary exam.
- The committee unanimously agrees that the work was unsatisfactory. This constitutes a score of Fail on the oral component of the preliminary exam.
- The committee decides to require the student to complete additional work before assigning a score to the exam. This may occur if the student has demonstrated mostly satisfactory work but shows deficiency in some component. Upon completion of the additional work, the committee decide on one of these three options.
Once the committee unanimously agrees upon a score of Pass or Fail on the oral component, they must give their decision on the Preliminary Exam Evaluation Form.
A score of Fail on the oral component constitutes failure of the preliminary exam. In this case, the advisor may choose to allow at most one re-examination. The re-examination will not be permitted during the semester in which the preliminary examination was failed. If the student fails to pass the re-examination, The Graduate School will send the student a letter of dismissal from the program.