F2.6 Qualifying Examination
Updated: April 24th, 2013
The Qualifying Examination is administered by the Graduate Division on behalf of the Graduate Council. Approval of the committee membership and the conduct of the examination are accordingly subject to the Graduate Division’s review and approval. The exam is normally held on one day and lasts approximately two to three hours. The Qualifying Examination is an oral exam. A department may require written examinations or papers as prerequisites to the Qualifying Examination, but they are not a component of the Qualifying Examination itself, which is under the purview of the Graduate Council.
The purpose of the Qualifying Examination. The intent of the Qualifying Examination is to ascertain the breadth of the student’s comprehension of fundamental facts and principles that apply to at least three subject areas related to the major field of study and whether the student has the ability to think incisively and critically about the theoretical and the practical aspects of these areas. Some programs expect students to present a topic for the dissertation as part of the Qualifying Examination, but the examination must not be narrowly limited to this topic if the intent of the examination is to be fulfilled. In programs that do not have this expectation, students may be required to have in mind one or two areas from which the dissertation might be developed and to answer questions on its potential significance and possible design.
The examiners should satisfy themselves, by unanimous vote, that the student demonstrated sufficient command of the three subject areas in addition to showing the ability to design and produce an acceptable dissertation. The examination may consider a number of academic points of view and the criteria by which they may be evaluated.
The Graduate Council’s statement on the purpose and meaning of the Qualifying Examination is available on the Graduate Division website (http://www.grad.berkeley.edu/policies/degrees_office.shtml).
Applying to take the Qualifying Examination. Students should be encouraged to take the Qualifying Examination and be advanced to candidacy as soon as they are prepared. Before endorsing the student’s application to take the exam, however, the Head Graduate Adviser must also be certain that students who are non-native speakers possess the English skills necessary for participating in an oral exam since the Qualifying Examination must be conducted in English.
Students must apply to take the Qualifying Examination no later than three weeks before the examination date to allow the Graduate Division time to review and approve the application. Approval is absolutely required before the exam may take place. Holding the exam before the student and the committee members have been notified that admission to it has been approved will cause its results to be voided. Students must list on their applications at least three subject areas to be covered during the examination. The Graduate Services: Degrees Office is unable to approve applications that do not contain this information. The application is available from the Graduate Division website (http://www.grad.berkeley.edu/policies/forms.shtml).
The student’s foreign language examination or certification of native fluency should not be included with the application, but rather archived in student files at the department. Any exceptions to the language requirement must still be requested from the Associate Dean, however.
Eligibility to take the Qualifying Examination. To be eligible to take the exam, a student must:
- be registered and enrolled for the semester in which the exam is taken or, if it is taken during the winter or summer intersessions, be registered in either the preceding or the following semester (the exam may be taken up to the last day before the beginning of the next term);
- have completed at least one semester of academic residence;
- have at least a B average in all work undertaken in graduate standing;
- have no more than two courses graded Incomplete;
- have satisfactorily completed departmental preliminary exam requirements, if applicable; and
- have completed the foreign language requirement.
Period of eligibility to take the Qualifying Examination. Following approval, a student’s eligibility to take the Qualifying Exam is valid for 18 months. Eligibility continues even if the student fails on the first attempt but is recommended for reexamination. However, if the student does not take the examination during the 18-month period, he or she must file a new application.
Scheduling the examination. The student is advised to confer with the chair of the Qualifying Exam Committee when he or she is prepared to set the date of the examination so that necessary arrangements can be made. The student should begin this consultation well in advance of the planned exam date to ensure the availability of the examination committee and approval of the examination application by the Graduate Division. If the student’s health or personal situation makes it too difficult to take the examination as scheduled, or if accommodation for a disability is necessary, the student is required to make this known before the exam so the chair can arrange for a postponement or appropriate accommodation.
Qualifying Examination Committee. Service on a Qualifying Examination Committee is an obligation of membership in the Academic Senate. Departments can require either a four- or five-member Qualifying Examination Committee, but whichever option they choose must apply to all students in the degree program and be on record in the Graduate Division.
The majority of the committee must be in the student’s major field. In the case of a four-person committee, at least two Academic Senate members must be from the student’s major. The chair of the Qualifying Examination Committee must be from the student’s major and a member of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate; the chair cannot also serve as chair of the student’s Dissertation Committee. At least one committee member must come from outside the student’s major, and also be a member of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate.
For more detailed information on Qualifying Examination Committee membership and exceptional committee appointments, see “Faculty Committees for Higher Degrees,” in the section below on “Policies Affecting Both Master’s and Doctoral Students.”
Conducting a Qualifying Examination. The Chair of the Qualifying Examination Committee is responsible for making sure that the committee administers the exam fairly and follows the procedures outlined in the next section. The committee’s outside member, an Academic Senate faculty member who does not hold an appointment in the student’s major department, serves as the Dean’s representative to observe that the chair fulfills this responsibility and should report any infractions to the Graduate Division. An exam that is not conducted according to Graduate Division guidelines may be invalidated. Both faculty and students should refer to the Graduate Council’s statement on the nature of the Qualifying Examination, available on the Graduate Division website (http://www.grad.berkeley.edu/policies/degrees_office.shtml).
Absence of committee members. The exam must be held with the entire committee present for the length of the exam. If a committee member cannot attend, the exam should be rescheduled or the committee reconstituted. A student may not be examined separately by committee members.
If a committee member’s absence may be resolved by telecommunications (e.g., a conference call, videoconferencing, Skype), the chair should request prior approval for this arrangement from the cognizant Associate Dean, in care of the Graduate Services: Degrees Office (318 Sproul Hall, #5900) . The distant member must be online for the entire examination and deliberation period and be audible to all present.
If an emergency, such as an illness or an accident, occurs just before the exam, the committee chair should call Graduate Services Degrees (642-7330), explain the problem, and request permission from the cognizant Associate Dean, inc are of the Graduate Services: Degrees Office (318 Sproul Hall, #5900), to conduct the exam under special circumstances. If an emergency situation also compels a committee member to depart before the exam is concluded, he or she must write a memo to the cognizant Associate Dean, in care of the Graduate Services: Degrees Office (318 Sproul Hall, #5900), explaining the reason for the absence and presenting an opinion of the student’s performance on topics covered during the time the committee member attended the exam. This information and a memo from the chair of the examining committee will be considered in determining the final results of the examination.
Nonappearance by the student. If a student is not present at the time of the scheduled Qualifying Examination, both the committee chair and the student must submit reports explaining the circumstances to Associate Dean within six working days following the date of the exam. Only the Administrative Committee of the Graduate Council may rule the student’s non-appearance at the scheduled time constitutes a failed examination. Conversely, the Administrative Committee may find that the department, the examination committee, or both acted improperly, and act to monitor a rescheduled examination to ensure proper conduct of the exam.
Adjournment. If a student suffers from illness or psychological stress that prevents him or her from answering questions effectively during the exam, or if there are other problems that prevent the exam from proceeding properly, the chair should recess the examination immediately. The committee should meet without the student to decide whether or not to continue the exam.
If the committee decides that the exam cannot continue under the circumstances, the chair will adjourn the exam without a vote and immediately report the adjournment to Graduate Services: DegreesOffice (642-7330). The chair must explain why this step was taken and give the committee’s recommendation for further action. The committee can recommend that the exam be continued, but no later than 21 days from the date of the adjourned exam. If the exam is not resumed within 21 days, the reason must be reported and the exam may be judged to be a total or partial failure.
The student may be informed of the recommended action by the chair but must also be told that the recommendation must be reviewed by the Administrative Committee of the Graduate Council for approval. The committee should adjourn the exam only as a last step and only when other attempts to remedy the difficulty have been exhausted (such as a short recess to put the student at ease). Exams should not be adjourned simply because the student’s performance was not of passing quality, unless circumstances beyond the student’s control contributed to the failure. An exam that lasts for more than one-and-a-half hours will be considered a complete examination by the Graduate Council and should not be reported as an adjournment but as a total or partial failure. Committees should never recommend adjournment because a student’s English skills are not adequate for the exam.
Voting procedures. All members of the Qualifying Examination committee must be present to vote on the exam, and each member is expected to vote either “pass,” “fail,” or “partial fail” on the student’s performance during the entire examination. Committees should make every attempt to reach a unanimous decision.
The committee’s final decision should reflect the student’s performance on the exam. A vote to pass the student is only warranted if his or her academic performance was satisfactory and for no other reason. It is also not appropriate to add conditions to the examination verdict related to the dissertation topic, how the research should be conducted, who should be the dissertation chair, or how the student will be supported during the research phase. Moreover, conditions, such as subsequent service as a GSI in a particular course or presentation of a paper at a seminar, cannot be used to substitute for a student’s failure of any part of the examination and will not be accepted by the Graduate Division. If allowed a retake, the student must be orally examined before the full committee on all portions failed in the first Qualifying Examination.
For details on reporting the vote, refer to the following sections. Instructions for filling out the report form are available in the section “How to report the results of a Qualifying Examination” below.