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Washington State University Graduate School

Chapter 8D: Preliminary Exam Policies

A preliminary examination is required of each doctoral student for advancement to candidacy for the doctoral degree. A preliminary doctoral examination is designed to determine the fitness of the student for pursuing a doctoral program in the chosen field. 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 advisory committee from the minor program shall ballot 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.

1. Before Scheduling the Preliminary Exam

a. The student must:

  • have an approved doctoral Program of Study on file with the Graduate School;
  • have completed a substantial portion of the required coursework (six or fewer graded credits remaining on the Program of Study);
  • be registered for a minimum of two hours of 800-level research credits; and
  • have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 and a minimum 3.0 GPA on the Program of Study.

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

  • agreeing that the student is ready to take the preliminary exam; and
  • verifying that the student is on track to complete all program requirements.


2. Scheduling the Preliminary 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 preliminary 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.
  • 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 Requirments 

  • For a first attempt exam, the Graduate School usually appoints a member of the student’s advisory committee, preferably the advisory committee chair, to serve as the Graduate School liaison regarding the examination. 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.
  • Proctored written examinations, oral examinations, and balloting meetings will be held during regular business hours in an academic environment (e.g., on a WSU campus or research extension center).
  • If an oral examination is 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 preliminary 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 throughout the exam can be maintained for the student and all committee members.

4. Examination Process

The content and conduct of the preliminary examination are the responsibility of the faculty of the degree-granting program and the process should be outlined in the program’s Graduate Student Handbook. The process must be consistent with the guidelines outlined here.

  • Members of the advisory committee must be present (physically or by videoconference) for the entire oral examination. Other graduate faculty in the program are encouraged to attend and participate in the examination.
  • It is at the program’s discretion whether additional members of the WSU community (students, staff, faculty) are allowed to attend any oral presentation component of the examination and ask questions. Any questioning from a broader audience should not unduly influence the examination outcome.
  • 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.
  • If any advisory committee members, or graduate faculty intending to ballot, must leave the room or the online session during an oral examination or balloting discussion, the examination or discussion must be recessed until the faculty member returns.

Balloting Meeting

  • For oral exams, 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 research proposal or literature review).
  • Graduate Mentor Academy members, representing the Graduate School at an exam, do not ballot.
  • Ballots 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 via confidential fax or emailed as a pdf file, 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/or 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 Preliminary 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, a second and final attempt may be scheduled after a lapse of at least three months, but no longer than two academic semesters (excluding summer). 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. Timing of the Preliminary Examination Relative to Final Exams

  • A student may take a master’s final exam in the same semester as a preliminary exam.
  • In general, a doctoral final exam cannot be scheduled in the same semester as the preliminary exam. Four months must elapse between the successful completion of the preliminary exam and scheduling of the doctoral final exam.

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