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Golden Rule #1: Understanding the qualifying exam

It may sound simplistic, but understanding what the qualifying exam is, how it works, and its format is absolutely imperative to its successful completion. By graduate school, most graduate students are truly “professional students.” That is, they are experts at essay, multiple choice, and short answer tests, quizzes, and assignments. However, few graduate students are well practiced at oral examination. That is one of the reasons why the qualifying exam is so scary.
 
To abide by golden rule #1 you will need to obtain the following information:
  1. How much time does the exam usually take?
  2. What is the format of the exam?
  3. How is your performance assessed?
The best way to obtain this information is from a variety of sources. First and foremost, ask your faculty advisor for her/his input. Next ask these questions to all your committee members, especially your chair. Cross check their answers to see if all your committee members are on the same page when it comes to the time, format, and assessment. If not, then you may want to let your committee chair know so he or she can set the tone for your committee.
 
Next, you should ask these questions to other graduate students in your program who have recently passed their qualifying exam. After you have mastered the time, format, and assessment of the qualifying exam you will have a complete understanding of what it is you are about to undertake