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Qualifying Exam Preparation

The following information is being provided to graduate students and their advisors as a general guide for qualifying exam preparation. Please use this guide in combination with consultation with your faculty advisor, all of the members of your committee and the committee chair. Doctoral students in a myriad of programs are united by the common thread of facing the qualifying exam. For many graduate students, this is one of the most uncertain, stressful, and time-consuming aspects of their graduate education. This exam includes a written component in addition to the oral component and follows a format according to the specific requirement of the graduate program.

Although the content and structure of qualifying examinations varies by graduate program, this information focuses on universal "strategies for success" that will be valuable to graduate students in all programs. This information will help to demystify the qualifying exam, empower graduate students with the skills and strategies, feel confident and prepared when the time comes for their exam. In addition, this information is a resource for graduate student advisors to better achieve their mentoring goals. The following are the “Five Golden Rules” of qualifying exam preparation.

  1. Understand the qualifying exam.
  2. Know your examiners.
  3. Prepare early.
  4. Reduce your stress.
  5. Have an exam day plan.

Students who follow these “golden rules”, in combination with close consultation with their advisor and committee members, will be superbly prepared for success on their qualifying exam. So, where and when do you start? Ideally you should start with golden rule #1 about six months before your qualifying exam. However, graduate students often begin preparation three or fewer months in advance may also have good success.