Qualifying Exams / Advancement to Candidacy

Qualifying Examination

The purpose of the qualifying examination is to demonstrate that the student has adequate knowledge of the field and specialty, knows how to use academic resources, and is capable of conducting independent research for the dissertation.

The oral PhD qualifying examination will be taken prior to June 1 of the second year; it may be taken earlier if program requirements have been completed (grade B or higher in the Tetrad core courses, no Incomplete grades, and overall GPA of 3.0). It may not be taken prior to completing these requirements. The scheduling process must be completed by the end of March. Students will not be permitted to register for the Fall Quarter of the third year until the exam is completed, thus risking loss of stipend and requiring readmission procedures. On occasion there are extenuating circumstances when the exam cannot be taken in the time frame indicated above. In such situations, the students should be in communication with the program directors to request an extension. 

A committee of four faculty members will conduct the exam.

Choosing Your Committee Chair

  • The student and thesis advisor together are responsible for choosing a committee chair, who will serve as the student’s guide and advocate throughout the process
  • The committee chair must be a Tetrad faculty member––preferably a senior faculty member with several years experience on qualifying exam committees. There are, however, circumstances when the committee chair may not be a Tetrad member.  In such cases, the students must reach out to the program directors for approval.

Choosing Your Committee

  • The committee chair will help the student choose three other committee members, who should also be Tetrad faculty members (see above for potential exceptions).
  • Students are encouraged to choose at least one committee member whose research interests are distinct from those in the proposal.
  • Committee members not in the Tetrad program must be approved by the program director

Recommended Timeline

6 weeks before exam: Student works closely with both the thesis advisor and the exam committee chair to formulate a proposal and to prepare early drafts of the written proposal.

2-3 weeks before exam: Proposal has been approved by the thesis advisor and committee chair, the student then sends the proposal to the other committee members and arranges to meet with them.

1 week before exam: Student will submit the final version of the written proposal to each member of the Committee no less than one week prior to the exam date.


  • The proposal should be a brief summary that includes background, methodology, and interpretation.
  • The length should be no more than five (5) printed pages.


Overview: Qualifying exams are typically 2 hours in duration. The format is usually a chalk talk. If it becomes necessary to take the exam online, the program provides ipads so that the exam remains in the chalk talk format. For in-person chalk talks, students will have access ot the white board up to one hour before the exam.

  • In the exam, the student will be expected to display extensive knowledge of the area of their own research objectives.
  • The examination will also test "general literacy" in areas outside of the proposal topic.

General process: At the beginning of the qualifying exam, the student is asked to leave the room during which time the committee discusses the students' academic performance, rotation evaluations and thesis advisor evaluation of student progress. Committee also briefly discusses the proposal. The student is then invited back in to give a ten minute overview of their proposal using the white board. The talk should include: 1. Rationale and background of the project and 2. Brief description of each aim.

After the 10-minute talk, the committee members will start a discussion of the proposal. The student is expected to use the white board to address questions.


  • Sometimes, after about an hour of discussion, the committe will take a break to re-assess what areas the student should be evaluated on. The student will be asked to step out during the break and re-asessment. After all discussion has been completed, the student is asked to step out one last time during which time the commitee makes a final decision.
  • Based on the examination performance, the committee will recommend that the student (a) Pass or (b) Not Pass.
  • If the student does not pass, then another exam should be scheduled to take place within 6 months of the date of the original exam. The re-examination must take place with the original committee as the Graduate Division does not allow changes in the committee membership.
  • In the case that reexamination is recommended, a failure at the second examination will normally result in termination of graduate study.

Advancement to Candidacy

  • Advancement to PhD candidacy is a separate milestone from passing your qualifying exam and does not happen automatically. The application for candidacy must be filed with the dean of the Graduate Division. Tetrad students are responsible for filing within one month of passing the qualifying examination. The form is available to submit online in the student portal.
  • The application includes the names of the thesis advisory committee, chosen by the student in consultation with the thesis advisor (SEE Choosing your Thesis Advisory Committee).