Doctoral Examinations

Preliminary Exams

The intention of the preliminary exams is to test a student’s breadth of knowledge of the literature pertaining to their substantive area of interest and their regional focus. The Preliminary Exam is comprised of a written exam on the student’s substantive focus, a written exam on the student’s regional focus, and an oral defense covering both subjects, taking place, respectively, at the end of the 7th, 8th, and 10th weeks of winter quarter in year 2. The Supervisory Committee, excluding your GSR, is responsible for administering the Preliminary Exam.

Two written exams

The written exams are based on two individualized reading lists, one each for the student’s substantive and regional foci. Students are responsible for having knowledge of and being able to discuss, synthesize, and critique the items on their reading lists. They are not responsible for items that are not on the reading lists. The reading list is created through consultation with the student and their Supervisory Committee and the final version must be approved by all Committee members. All reading lists depend on the student’s interests and are therefore different in length and character. However, students can access the reading lists of many previous students for review.

The exams each consist of three questions written by the Supervisory Committee. The student chooses one question to answer for each exam. The written responses to each exam should be 3,000-5,000 words. The Supervisory Committee consults to design the six questions (three for each exam), then sends the questions to the GPA no later than the 6th week of winter quarter. The GPA distributes the exam questions to each student via email at the start of the exam and then student submits their written response via email to the GPA within 24 hours.

Students are encouraged to meet with their Supervisory Committee about the nature of the exam questions and strategies for studying and writing responses. However, the Supervisory Committee cannot tell the student the exact questions that will be on the exam.

Oral Defense

The oral defense, takes two hours and takes place within two weeks after the written portion is completed. It covers the same material as the written exams and Supervisory Committees can ask new questions or questions to clarify and build upon the student’s written exam responses.

The entire preliminary exam (including both written exams and the oral defense) will be graded as a whole on a pass/failure/high pass basis. The Chair of the Supervisory Committee is responsible for moderating the Committee discussion of the grading, communicating the final grade to the students, and sending the final grade to the GPA via email.

Policies for failing the preliminary exam

In the occasion that a student fails any part of the preliminary exam, in consultation with their Supervisory Committee and the Ph.D. Committee, they will be required to retake the preliminary exam again in spring quarter of that year. The Supervisory Committee can decide whether the student must retake both the substantive and regional exams or only one. In either case, a written exam and oral defense are required. Only once the student has passed the preliminary exam may they schedule the general exam.

Any student who fails their preliminary exams is considered to be on academic probation and forfeits any possibility of Jackson School funding for the entire subsequent year.

Scheduling the Preliminary Exam

The written exams are scheduled by the JSIS PhD program. The first exam, on the student’s substantive focus, takes place during the 24-hour period from 10:00 am on Friday of the 7th week of the quarter. The second exam, on the student’s regional focus, takes place during the 24-hour period from 10:00 am on Friday of the 8th week of the quarter. Students who are non-native English speakers can request extra time on their exams from the PhD Committee.  Such requests must be submitted to the Director of the PhD Program no later than December 1 of the student’s second year.

The oral defense is scheduled by the student in consultation with their Supervisory Committee. As scheduling can be complicated, students should schedule their oral defense of the Preliminary Exam no later than 5:00 p.m. on the Friday of the 6th week of winter quarter. To schedule the oral defense, please confirm a date with your committee. Then email the GPA and cc your committee with the date. You should also indicate if you have already arranged a room, otherwise, the GPA can do this on your behalf.

Preliminary Exam
Task Deadline
Schedule Oral Defense 5:00 p.m. Friday of the 6th week of winter quarter
Send Bibliographies to Committee and GPA 5:00 p.m. Friday of the 6th week of winter quarter
Complete First Written Exam (Field Focus) 10:00 a.m. Friday of the 7th week of winter quarter
Complete Second Written Exam (Regional Focus) 10:00 a.m. Friday of the 8th week of winter quarter
Complete Oral Defense 5:00 p.m. Friday of the 10th week of winter quarter