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Washington State University Graduate School

Chapter 8E: Doctoral Final Exam Policies

All doctoral programs require that a candidate prepare a dissertation. The dissertation is a scholarly, original study that represents a significant contribution to the knowledge of the chosen discipline. The student must enroll for research (800-level) credits while preparing and defending the dissertation.

Approval for use of human subjects, animals, or biohazardous materials in research is required before research is initiated. If the student plans to utilize human subjects, animals or biohazardous materials for research, the student must contact the Office of Research Assurances (see Chapter 11 for additional policies and resources concerning research).

The doctoral advisory committee is responsible for ensuring that the student has followed an appropriate format and that the content is acceptable. The advisory committee members must read and return drafts of dissertations to the student within a reasonable period of time. The Faculty Senate Graduate Studies Committee recommends that advisory committee members hold drafts for no longer than 30 calendar days.

Washington State University participates in the ProQuest Dissertation Publishing program and submits all dissertations to this organization for publication upon acceptance. No material in the dissertation may be restricted in any way; the dissertation must be made available through the Washington State Libraries and ProQuest for inspection by any interested parties. If copyrighted material is included in the dissertation, written permission must be obtained from the copyright owner to reproduce the material in the dissertation. Such written permission must be submitted to the Graduate School at final acceptance.

A candidate for a doctoral degree must pass a final oral examination. This examination will be primarily a discussion and defense of the dissertation. However, the examination may cover the general fields of knowledge pertinent to the degree.

1. Before Scheduling the Final Exam

a. The student must:

  • have completed all graded coursework required by the program or listed on the approved Program of Study;
  • be registered for a minimum of two hours of 800-level credits;
  • have passed the preliminary exam at least four months prior to scheduling the final exam. Note: students are expected to complete and defend their dissertation within three years of passing their preliminary exam and advancement to candidacy.
  • have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 and a minimum 3.0 GPA on the Program of Study;
  • complete the Application for Degree in myWSU. The graduation fee must be paid before the final exam is scheduled; and
  • wait a minimum of three months after a failed first attempt before scheduling a second attempt at the final exam.

b. The candidate’s advisory committee is responsible for:

  • approving all aspects of the final dissertation before the student schedules the final exam. The student will only have five business days after the final exam to make any requested changes to the dissertation (Chapter 6.H); and
  • verifying that the student will complete all program requirements by the end of the semester in which the final exam is taken.


2. Scheduling the Final Exam

  • The student is responsible for filling out the Scheduling Examination form and obtaining the advisory committee signatures. The form should then be forwarded to the academic coordinator for review by the program chair and final submission to the Graduate School via the GRM.
  • The Scheduling Examination form must be submitted to the Graduate School no later than 10 business days prior to the proposed date of the examination for a first attempt. If a student is attempting the final exam for a second time, the Scheduling Examination form must be submitted no later than 15 business days prior to the proposed date for the exam.
  • The student must upload a draft of their dissertation to ProQuest at For dissertations, copyright, distribution, and binding decisions must be made and paid for in full when uploading the draft; these selections will apply only to the final version approved by the Graduate School. The Scheduling Examination form will not be processed until the Graduate School has received the dissertation draft. Graduate School staff will advise the student if there are any formatting issues that need to be addressed before the thesis can be accepted by the Graduate School and ProQuest.
  • The dissertation must be available for public inspection in the graduate program’s office at least five business days prior to the final examination.
  • When advisory committee members sign the Scheduling Examination form, they indicate that they have read and approved a printed or electronic dissertation, suitable in content and format, for defense and submission to the Library (Chapter 6.H). They also indicate their acceptance of the date, time, and place of the final examination.
  • A student, department chair, graduate program director, advisory committee member, or other concerned member of the WSU community may request that the Graduate School provide an independent observer to be present at any final examination/balloting meeting. This request must be made 15 business days in advance of the exam date. The name of the individual making the request will be confidential. All such requests will be fulfilled by drawing upon a member of the Graduate Mentor Academy. During the scheduling process, the Graduate School will notify the student, advisory committee and department chair/program director if a graduate mentor has been assigned to attend the exam.


3. Scheduling Requirements

  • For a first attempt exam, the Graduate School usually appoints a member of the student’s advisory committee to serve as the Graduate School liaison regarding the examination process. Preferably, the advisory committee chair is the Graduate School liaison.
  • For a second attempt exam, the Graduate School will appoint a representative from the Graduate Mentor Academy to serve as the Graduate School liaison for the examination process.
  • The oral examination and balloting meeting will be held during regular business hours in an academic environment (e.g., on a WSU campus or research and extension center).
  • If the oral examination and balloting meeting are conducted using videoconference technology, it is recommended that at least one advisory committee member be physically present in the room with the student during the oral final exam. This faculty member can provide logistical, technical, and other support to the student during the exam. However, there is no requirement for a committee member or an approved proctor to be present with the student during the examination; examinations can be conducted with all participants attending virtually as long as connectivity can be maintained for the student and all committee members.

4. Examination Process

The standard process for the doctoral final examination varies across disciplines and programs. However, the policies and procedures established for final exams by a graduate program should be outlined in the program’s Graduate Student Handbook and must adhere to the guidelines provided here.

  • Presentations of dissertation results are public events. All faculty and students, regardless of discipline, are encouraged to attend. Audience members may be allowed to ask questions, but such questioning should not unduly influence the examination outcome.
  • It is acceptable to conclude the public presentation and conduct a separate examination portion with only members of the advisory committee and program graduate faculty in attendance and asking examination questions. Again, the standard procedure of the program should be clearly described in the program’s graduate handbook and applied consistently to all students.
  • The examination portion of the oral exam should not exceed two-and-one-half hours.
  • If any advisory committee members, or graduate faculty intending to ballot, must leave the room or the online session during the examination or balloting discussion, the examination or discussion must be recessed until the faculty member returns.

Balloting Meeting

  • The ballot meeting must follow immediately after the conclusion of the student’s oral exam.
  • Only individuals casting ballots or appointed as a representative of the Graduate School are allowed to attend the balloting portion of the exam.
  • Advisory committee members must be present at the balloting meeting and must cast a ballot.
  • Any graduate faculty in the program may ballot. Individual programs determine in their bylaws which faculty can participate in the graduate program and thus are eligible to ballot in examinations.
  • As a best practice, graduate faculty choosing to ballot should have participated in the assessment of all components of the student’s work being evaluated during the examination (e.g., read the dissertation).
  • Graduate Mentor Academy members, representing the Graduate School at an exam, do not ballot.
  • There is no separation into major and minor fields; all examiners ballot on the total examination.
  • Ballots must be completed must be completed electronically in the GRM module within myWSU.
  • The Graduate School liaison will have access to the completed ballots; while keeping the individual ballots confidential, the Graduate School liaison will announce to the committee whether the student passed. External committee members who are not WSU faculty may not have access to myWSU. Such participants should communicate their ballot recommendations directly to the Graduate School liaison (e.g., text or email). A scan, snapshot, or fax of the paper ballot should be sent to the Graduate School liaison immediately following the exam, and this ballot should then be submitted electronically to the Graduate School via email to
  • The student must be informed of the outcome immediately after the balloting meeting is adjourned.
  • The Graduate School liaison is responsible for ensuring that all ballots and the ballot memo are submitted electronically to the Graduate School as soon as possible and no later than five business days following the exam.

Under extraordinary circumstances, on the recommendation of the advisory committee, the dean of the Graduate School may approve alternate arrangements for the examination environment and process.


5. Examination Outcome

The candidate shall pass if the number of affirmative ballots is equal to or greater than the minimum listed in the table below. If the number of ballots exceeds the numbers listed in the table, then a minimum of 75% of the ballots must be affirmative for the student to pass.

                     Table of Doctoral Final Exam Ballots

Number of Ballots  Minimum Number of Affirmative Ballots
3 3
4 3
5 4
6 5
7 6
8 6



6. Second Attempt Exam

In the event of a failed first attempt, The exception to the allowance of a second attempt may occur if a member of the Graduate Mentor Academy (appointed by the Graduate School) presided over the student’s first exam and agrees that a re-examination is not an appropriate disposition of the case (see Chapter 1.E.2, Examination Failure). When scheduling a second exam, the scheduling form must be submitted to the Graduate School at least 15 business days in advance of the exam day. A member of the Graduate Mentor Academy will be appointed by the Graduate School and must be present at re-examination. The entire committee must be present and vote. A student who has failed two examinations will be dismissed from the Graduate School. Should there be procedural irregularities or extenuating circumstances during the first or second examination, the student has the right to appeal to the Graduate School in the event of examination failure.


7. Taking More than One Examination During the Same Semester

  • If a student is completing a master’s and a doctoral degree in the same discipline, the master’s final exam must be completed at least one semester prior to taking the doctoral final exam.
  • A student may take a master’s final exam and a doctoral final exam in the same semester, provided the degrees are in different disciplines and subject to the following conditions:
    • The student must obtain written approval from the advisory committees and program chairs/directors for each degree, and this approval must be submitted with the Scheduling Examination forms. The student will have to apply for graduation for both degrees and pay a separate fee for each graduation application.
    • The student is allowed take the doctoral final exam before the master’s final exam.
    • The examinations must be scheduled on separate days, with a minimum of 15 business days in between the examinations. This period allows time for completion and submission of the thesis or dissertation within the five business day timeline stipulated in Chapter 6.H, before submitting the Scheduling Examination form to the Graduate School 10 business days in advance of the second exam.

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