Preliminary Exam Portfolio



The Preliminary Exam is tightly interwoven with every other element of the doctoral curriculum: coursework, qualifying exam, and dissertation, as well as more administrative and developmental elements such as time-to-degree considerations, mentoring, cohort building, and professional development. As a result, rather than the conventional reading list and timed exam approach, this Program requires each student to assemble a portfolio of materials collected over the course of her or his first two to three years as a doctoral student, take a common readings exam, that is included in the Portfolio, and then take an oral exam on the contents of the Portfolio.


In the year that students plan to submit their Preliminary Exam Portfolio (PEP), they will discuss their plans in their annual review and then follow up to share drafts of their materials in at least one meeting with their mentor in the fall.  The mentor is chosen by the graduate student in consultation with the Director of the RCTE program. The instructor of the Preliminary Exam Portfolio Workshop will hold an orientation meeting in the fall semester to help students prepare to submit their PEP.  In the spring, students will enroll in the Workshop, which will meet at least six times before the written exam is taken in the tenth week of the semester.  The Workshop will meet in the week after the exam to help students prepare for the oral portion of the exam in the twelfth week of the semester  In addition to these formal requirements, students should prepare to submit their PEP by working informally in peer mentoring groups and with their mentors in the months leading up to the exam.


The PEP will include:

  1. A reflective essay (1250 words max.) that offers an overview of your intellectual and professional growth thus far in the Program, and comments specifically on your development within the areas of research, teaching, and service;
  2. Revised Specialization Statement The revised Specialization Statement is based on the document of the same name developed during the Year 1 Inquiry & Innovation Seminar. This brief document (approximately 500 words max.) describes your specialization pursued through coursework, explains differences between the initially proposed specialization and its current instantiation, and comments on how this specialization will contribute to the development of your dissertation. The last section should include a rigorously imagined and organized dissertation idea (approximately 750 words) that includes a reading list designed to help you prepare to write your dissertation and position yourself within a particular sub-field for the next decade. Note that this is not a dissertation proposal, but rather a preliminary statement meant to help both of you and the faculty get a better sense of where you see your doctoral work going next.
  3. The Comparative Cultural Requirement Report;
  4. One seminar paper or submitted journal articles/book chapter representing your best thinking and writing to date. One of these must be within your declared specialization and revised based on feedback from at least one faculty member;
  5. Answers to a Common Readings Exam (see below).


Each of the five components of the PEP has been selected for particular reasons related to doctoral degree preparation and together enable the faculty to accurately assess students’ readiness to begin the dissertation process, begin an academic job search, and perform effectively as a skilled humanities researcher, teacher, and community contributor.


The PEP will be developed gradually throughout the first two or three years in the Program, and finally assembled and discussed as part of a Preliminary Exam Portfolio Workshop. This workshop, taught by once faculty every spring semester, will be designed to help students assemble high quality PEPs and establish good study practices for the Common Readings Exam.


The Preliminary Exam Portfolio Workshop

The PEP Workshop will

  • help students assemble faculty members’ course-based questions as well as develop new guiding questions that have emerged independently through coursework and during the Qualifying Exam process. These questions, gathered together from all the students in each year’s PEP cohort, will become the foundation of the Common Readings Exam (see below);
    • All students who are preparing for their comps will sign up for this course and 3 dissertation units (thereby fulfilling the minimum of 6 enrolled hours requirement attached to GTAships).
  • have the facilitator meeting with students approximately 6 times throughout the semester. During the early part of the workshop, the faculty member will work closely with the students to help them assemble all their materials and establish a good study cohort. At other times, the facilitator will help students prepare for the CRE by leading discussions, offering practice questions, and providing other forms of feedback, support, and guidance for developing a successful Preliminary Exam Portfolio.


The Common Readings Exam (CRE)

The Common Readings Exam is designed to ensure that students are familiar with topics and methods that the Program’s faculty have determined are particularly and currently important to scholars in the conjoined and varied disciplines that comprise “rhetoric and composition studies.” The readings on the list are grouped into three topical areas.  Students select two of the three for their examinations.  Drawing upon their individual research interests, students will add several articles and at least one book to each of the three topical areas they select. The CRE will be offered twice a year in approximately the fifth week of the semester.


The exams will be read by a four-person faculty review panel. Three of the members of the faculty review panel will serve on all committees, and they will generally be comprised of tenured faculty members in the RCTE program. Each student also will add a fourth faculty member in consultation with the RCTE Director. In some cases, a student might choose to add a fifth faculty member based on their specialization and/or minor. This decision must also be made in consultation with the RCTE Director. Each member of the panel will cast a vote either to Pass or Fail each CRE under review; a simple majority rules. Once a decision has been reached, the results will be added to the appropriate CEPs when they are submitted by the students.


To prepare for the CRE, students will:

  • receive the Common Readings List in May of the year prior to the CRE;
    • This list will contain 10-15 books and 10-15 articles/chapters/excerpts, many of which students will have read in their courses;
  • select two of the three topical areas to be examined upon;
  • submit a combination of 5 books/articles to add to the common reading list for their exam. This list would be submitted as a one-page document during the PEP workshop, along with a list of three specialization questions. In the exam, they can choose one of these questions to answer;
  • form study groups that will meet at least once a week to discuss the readings on the List;
  • meet at least once with their mentor to discuss their reading list and dissertation idea;
  • discuss their reading list with the RCTE Director in their annual reviews in the year when they will take the exam;
  • attend a fall workshop and meet individually with the PEP workshop instructors in the semester before taking the exam;
  • participate in at least one practice exam exercise in the PEP workshop; and
  • schedule a day and time for an oral exam with the PEP Review Committee (see below).


The written part of the CRE will take place in approximately week 7 of the Spring semester. Results will be given in approximately week 10 and oral exams will generally be held in week 12-14 of the Spring semester. The CRE will be the same for all students in the cohort and will be derived directly--and in some cases verbatim--from the guiding questions that the students and co-teachers assembled in the first two weeks of the PEP Workshop. Students will be asked to answer any one of the questions from each list and will have one week to compose their answers. Answers will be limited to 2500 words each. Special needs can be accommodated.


In Week 10 of the semester, the PEP Review Committee receives the student materials.


The Preliminary Exam Portfolio as outlined helps to ensure that the comprehensive exam builds on interconnectedness of the curriculum to provide students with an opportunity to synthesize and reflect upon their studies in collaboration with faculty who have designated time to support students through the process.


The PEP also clearly and helpfully cements the Program’s Learning Outcomes to a major milestone in the arc toward the Ph.D., an advantage that is both informative to faculty of the Program, and reassuring to the Dean of the Graduate College and the Vice-Provost for Academic Affairs who are together responsible for ensuring the quality of all graduate programs within the University of Arizona.


College of Social and Behavioral Sciences