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Washington State University Graduate School

Chapter 8D: Preliminary Exam Policies

The Preliminary Doctoral Examination. The preliminary doctoral examination is designed to determine the fitness of the student for pursuing a doctoral program in the field in which a degree is desired. The examination is intended to cover both major and minor disciplines (if a minor is approved). The major examination may be written or oral (or both), at the discretion of the major program. The minor examination (when applicable) may be written or oral or both, or may be waived, at the discretion of the minor program. When the minor examination is waived, the member of the committee from the minor program shall vote with the major program. The minor program is notified if the student has less than a 3.0 grade point average on the student’s minor work when the minor examination has been waived.

A preliminary examination is required of each doctoral student for advancement to candidacy for the doctoral degree. The student is responsible for scheduling the preliminary examination (oral exam and/or ballot meeting for written exam).  The preliminary examination must be scheduled with the Graduate School at least 10 working/business days before the examination is held.  It is scheduled using the Preliminary Examination Scheduling Form, only after the Program of Study has been approved, a substantial portion of the required course work has been completed (six or fewer graded credits remaining to complete), and when the student and committee chair agree that the student is prepared for the examination.  Before the preliminary examination can be scheduled, the student must:  1) be registered for a minimum of two hours of 800 credit as a regular graduate student at the beginning of the semester or summer session in which the preliminary examination is to be taken, 2) have at least a 3.0 cumulative grade point average, and 3) have a 3.0 grade point average or higher on the program courses already taken.

A member of the student’s committee will be appointed by the Graduate School to serve as the Graduate School liaison regarding the examination process (balloting, etc.). A student, department chair, graduate program director, committee member, or any other concerned member of the WSU community may request that the Graduate School provide an independent observer to be present at a preliminary examination/ballot meeting. The name of the individual making the request will be held confidential. All such requests will be fulfilled by drawing on a member of the Graduate Mentor Academy. All repeat examinations or defenses will have such an independent, outside representative. During the scheduling process, the Graduate School will notify the student, committee and department chair/program director if a Graduate Mentor has been assigned to an exam.

Examination Environment and Process:

  • For students participating in on-campus programs, preliminary examinations shall be held during regular working hours of an academic session in an academic environment either on the Pullman or branch campus, or by videoconference over Academic Media Services (AMS) or similar technologies.
  • Students participating in approved Global Campus programs have the option of taking their preliminary examinations during regular working hours of an academic session either on campus or via technology approved and available through the Global Campus. Arrangements are to be approved by the faculty committee and program chair and made in accordance with the Graduate School’s examination environment policy and process.
  • All members of the doctoral committee must be present in the room at the oral examination and at the ballot meeting, and all must vote. If the program uses an examination committee, then all members of the committee must be present for the oral examination and the balloting meeting. Not all committee members are required to be present for a written examination; however, the examination should be proctored.
  • If the examination is administered via AMS videoconference, at least one member of the doctoral committee must be physically present in the room with the student. If the examination is administered via approved Global Campus technology, all committee members must be present during the examination session and subsequent balloting session.
  • Individual programs determine in their bylaws which faculty can participate in the graduate program and thus are eligible to vote.  In all cases, any eligible faculty wishing to vote must be in attendance during all of the examination. If an attending faculty member eligible to vote must leave the room or the online session during the examination, the examination is to be recessed until this member returns. It is a best practice that any faculty member voting on the examination outcome should have assessed all components of the student’s work being evaluated during the examination, including written documents submitted before the scheduled examination (examples include research proposals or literature reviews). At the discretion of the major program (department) chair, members of the WSU faculty from other graduate programs may be present and may ask questions. However, these faculty are not eligible to vote.
  • All faculty wishing to vote must be in attendance during all of the oral examination and the balloting meeting. If a faculty member wishing to vote must leave the room or the online session during the examination or balloting discussion, the examination or discussion is to be recessed until said member returns.
  • In situations in which faculty participate over AMS videoconference or other virtual meeting technology, signed ballots must be sent to the Graduate School’s liaison (normally the committee chair) immediately following the exam via confidential email as an image file. The Graduate School liaison must include these ballots in the packet returned to the Graduate School.
  • The packet of completed ballots and the Ballot Memorandum must be returned to the Graduate School within five business days after the examination.

Exceptions to this policy regarding the examination environment, including the use of technology and the presence and participation of faculty, must be requested well in advance of the exam and will be made by the Dean of the Graduate School only under unusual circumstances.

The content and conduct of a preliminary examination is the responsibility of the faculty of the degree-granting program and should be administered by the chair/director of that program or someone delegated by him/her. The department/program chair/director (or designee, i.e., student committee chair) shall be responsible for conducting a fair and searching examination and for affording a reasonable opportunity during the oral portion for all examiners to question the student. There is no time limit for either the written or oral portions of the examination, but all aspects of the examination (i.e., the evaluation of any written component, the oral presentation, and/or the balloting meeting) must be completed within 30 calendar days.

Examination Outcome:

At the conclusion of the oral examination or at the ballot meeting, if only a written examination is given, the candidate’s total performance on the examination should be discussed and ballots cast based on the entire examination. The candidate shall pass if a minimum of three-fourths of those voting so indicate (see Table of Doctoral Preliminary and Final Exam Votes under Chapter 8E Section 3).

In the event of a failed examination, a student will be re-examined for a second and final attempt. At least three months, but no longer than two academic semesters (excluding summer), must lapse between a failed examination and a re-examination. When scheduling for a second exam, the scheduling form must be submitted at least 15 working/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 for a re-examination. The entire committee must be present and vote. A student who has failed two preliminary examinations may not become a candidate for the doctorate and the student’s enrollment in the Graduate School will be terminated. The only exception to this re-examination policy is 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, Section E.2, Examination (Preliminary or Final) Failure). In the event of exam failure, the student has the right to appeal to the Graduate School should there be procedural irregularities or extenuating circumstances during the first or second exam.

A minimum of four months must elapse between the successful completion of a preliminary examination and the scheduling of a final examination.


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