Qualifying Examination

The Graduate College requires that "each prospective candidate must pass a qualifying examination in the proposed major field." In order to be admitted into the PhD program students must pass a Qualifying Examination that demonstrates their capability to undertake work leading to candidacy for the doctorate.

For the Qualifying Examination in the Literature Program four members of the literature faculty meet to review the student’s performance in the program and prospects for successfully completing the PhD. The student does not attend this decision meeting.

Students who complete the MA degree in our Literature Program should take the Qualifying Examination as soon as possible after passing the MA Exam, preferably during the same semester, but in no case later than their final semester in the MA program (normally, for GATs, in their sixth semester). Students will not be permitted to take classes for the Ph.D. degree if they have not passed the examination within this designated time period. The Qualifiying Exam may not be attempted more than once


  • The student selects two members of the literature faculty to serve on the committee. The Director of the Graduate Literature Program and a member of the Graduate Literature Committee serve as the other two members of the committee. Normally, the chair of the committee will be the advisor/mentor of the student being reviewed; the Graduate Director appoints the chair.
  • The committee reviews a single, article-length paper submitted by the student. In addition, the committee takes into consideration the student’s admissions file, performance in course work, and any other evidence the committee may wish to solicit (e.g., opinions of professors with whom the student has done course work).
  • The chair of the committee will call the candidate immediately after the examination to report the outcome. A positive vote of the committee (4-0 or 3-1) qualifies the student to proceed in the PhD program. A negative vote of the committee (2-2, 1-3, or 0-4) disqualifies the student from the PhD program. The examination may not be attempted more than once.

Within one week of the exam, the chair of the examination committee will hold a conference with the candidate to discuss the committee’s judgment of the paper and the student’s progress, regardless of the outcome of the examination.


A student requests the Qualifying Examination by filing the Qualifying Examination Request Form (sample attached) with the Graduate Administrative Assistant. This form must be filed before the end of the eighth week of the semester in which the student requests that the examination be held. At that time the student also submits a current unofficial transcript (available on UAccess) and four copies of the article- length paper.

Qualifying Examination Request Form > Download

The Qualifying Examination for students who enter the program with an MA or equivalent in hand:

  • The candidate’s admissions file serves also as a Qualifying file; the writing sample functions as the Qualifying paper.
  • A decision to admit the candidate to our program shall be regarded as tantamount to a Pass on the Qualifying Exam.
  • In keeping with Graduate College policy mandating a Qualifying Examination, the Program Director will hold an interview with the new student early in the student’s first semester in residence. This interview functions as the Qualifying Examination. During this interview the Director will communicate to the student, as appropriate, the Admissions Committee’s evaluation of the student’s Writing Sample/Qualifying Paper.

The Qualifying Examination committee will normally meet within a month after the form is filed if the request is made during the academic year (August to March). Note that Qualifying Examinations will not normally be scheduled during the winter holidays or the summer recess.


Students should talk about the paper with their mentors and with the Director of the Graduate Literature Program before they request the examination. In general, we advise students to submit work that demonstrates the sustained development of a critical argument supporting an interpretation. The committee will look for evidence in the paper that the candidate has the capacity for advanced research and high quality writing sufficient for the successful completion of a dissertation. Before submitting a seminar paper for the examination, students are encouraged to review their instructors’ comments and to revise accordingly.

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College of Social and Behavioral Sciences