Special thanks to the MCB Graduate Affairs Office for sharing the original work upon which this document is based.

If programs shift to all-Zoom preliminary, comprenhesive, and qualifying exams, we have compiled a list of best practices that we hope will assist students and faculty. Please review this document before your exam and share with all members. Chairs, committee members, and students should all employ creativity and flexibility to conduct the best exam possible.

As a helpful refresher, at the bottom of this document, please see some guidelines around QE committee responsibilities.

A note about the required exception memos:
Through AY 2021-22, the Graduate Council has granted a blanket exception to the rule that all members of a QE committee and the student must attend in person; all members of QE meetings can attend remotely. However, for record-keeping purposes, and to support students and departments should questions about the exam arise, departments are required to submit a short memo describing the exam to the Graduate Degrees office using the Degrees Exceptions eForm. This memo should describe the location and technological circumstances or tools to be used of all members, including the student (e.g., all members will use Zoom, the chair will ensure all technological needs are addressed during the exam, etc.) We have provided a memo template for department use. Either the chair of the committee or the Graduate Student Affairs Officer should gather pertinent details from all members; the GSAO should submit this memo using the Degrees Exception eForm in Campus Solutions.

If the Zoom meeting is experiencing repeated technical difficulties, or disruptions during an exam, the chair should immediately adjourn the meeting. Please see the Graduate Division Guidelines on Qualifying Exam Adjournment here (scroll down a little after hitting the link).


  • Chairs should encourage vigorous questioning, as in the past.  If one style isn’t working, the Chair should pause the exam to try another.
  • Questions can be preceded by a preface, such as the student’s name or the phrase ‘question’, to make the student aware and acknowledge the questioner.
  • Another option is to use the chat feature on Zoom: faculty can write questions and the student can monitor the chat channel and answer questions as they come in.
  • A third option is that students can pause at regular intervals (e.g.  every 5 or 10 min) and faculty can save their questions for that period.
  • Every Department may have different practices regarding how the questioning period is divided. For example, some may wish to divide questioning into “sections” by topic, while others may wish to allow each committee member an opportunity to ask questions. In any case, it’s recommended that everyone take at least a 5-minute break between each section or other designated period of time. Participants in previous Zoom exams found that two to three hours with just one break was overly challenging.
  • Given the obstacles associated with visual aids (below), faculty are encouraged to focus on questions that can be answered orally.


  • Every Department may have different practices re: whether the student begins the QE with a brief presentation by PowerPoint, writing on a board, etc.  These guidelines should be considered and modified to replicate as closely as possible whatever the conventional protocols are for the Department.
  • Students can send a brief (~4 pages) PDF, PPT or digital presentation to the committee as the exam starts. This either be a slide deck for what will be presented at the beginning of the exam, and/or can include an outline and key figures that would in the past have been written on a whiteboard.
  • If students use an iPad/tablet as the chalkboard (which has worked well in previous zoom QEs), advise students to go into their settings and turn off notifications for all of their apps. Google Drawings is a tool that students might consider using for drawing while sharing their screen.
  • If students use an iPad/tablet and a stylus, ask that they avoid having the tablet on a separate channel (i.e. in addition to a laptop) as feedback and echoes will arise.  If doing so, the student should practice ahead of time to ensure that this works well. 
  • If an iPad is not available to the student, or Google Drawings or other computer tools are not appropriate, students should have a clipboard with white paper and a thick (sharpie-like) marker if they are asked to diagram something, or if a question would be better illustrated by drawing.
  • Some students have experimented with a whiteboard, shown by the laptop camera.  This has presented difficulties with clarity, laptop angle, and distance.  If doing so, the student should practice ahead of time to ensure that this works well. 


  • Departments should make certain to give students with disabilities enough time before the examination to work with DSP to arrange any necessary accommodations.
  • Students with concerns about privacy and safety in the exam setting should be encouraged to work with CAPS or the Path to Care Center to arrive at an accommodation that works for them. 
  • We recommend that all members meet the day prior to the exam to do a “sound/visual check.” Ensure that:
    • Everyone is comfortable using the necessary software.
    • Everyone can see and hear each other.
    • Ensure that the student is taking the exam in a location that is not excessively private (e.g., their bedroom) and be flexible in accommodating students with regard to this issue.
    • Any visual aids the student plans to use are visible to all committee members.
    • The student can see and hear all committee members.
    • Any “unworkable elements” are discovered and resolved prior to the exam. (i.e poor lighting, bad room locations for meetings, etc.)  
  • If people are having trouble hearing each other during the sound check, or if there is any feedback, we recommend trying headphones to see if that helps the situation.  The student and all committee members should have headphones available before the meeting starts in case this is needed.
  • If a person has an extremely choppy internet connection, it might be best to call into the Zoom meeting instead of joining the audio via computer. A person can call in separately, and still join the zoom meeting by computer — they just need to make sure to turn off their sound for the computer connection.
  • Helpful guides include Screen Sharing a Power Point Presentation or iOS Screen Sharing.
  • For better Zoom security, update the following settings:
    • Change screensharing to “Host Only” before a call starts.
    • Disable “Join Before Host” so people can’t cause trouble before you arrive.
    • Enable “Co-Host” so you can assign others to help moderate.
    • Disable “File Transfer” so there’s no digital virus sharing.
    • Disable “Allow Removed Participants to Rejoin” so booted attendees can’t slip back in.
    • Please review additional security recommendations here.
    • If a student decides to postpone their exam, they can do so by telling the GAO
  • Committee documents should be emailed to all committee members by the GSAO several days before the exam with a link to a Box folder with the student’s name, including all QE materials for that particular student (QE report, annual reviews, memos–depending on departmental practice).
  • For committee-only discussions, use the Attendee on Hold option during the times when the student would normally leave the room for the committee to discuss their progress.
  • At the end of the exam, the Chair should inform the student of the outcome with some brief comments. 
  • After the exam, each committee member can add their signature to the QE report form provided in the Berkeley Box folder (if applicable). If there are any difficulties with this, you can ask the GSAO to email each committee member about the exam outcome (Pass, Fail, Partial Fail with plan for reexamination) — this can serve in place of the standard signature form.
  • While the exam is fresh in mind, the Chair should write a summary of the exam on the QE Report form provided by the GSAO, or if no form is available, by email to the GSAO.


  • Accommodating Students with Disabilities: Alvaro Gomez ([email protected]) should be consulted for any DSP concerns and to draft the qualifying exam accommodation letter.
  • The Chair of the Qualifying Examination Committee is responsible for making sure that the committee administers the exam fairly and follows the procedures outlined. 
  • The exam is normally held on one day and lasts approximately two to three hours.
  • The exam must be held with the entire committee present for the length of the exam. A student may not be examined separately by committee members.
  • The Qualifying Examination is an oral exam. The Qualifying Examination must be conducted in English; all members of the committee must be present either in person or through approved media.
  • The intent of the Qualifying Examination is to ascertain the breadth of the student’s comprehension in at least three subject areas related to the major field of study, and to determine whether the student has the ability to think incisively and critically about the theoretical and the practical aspects of these areas. The examination may consider a number of academic points of view and the criteria by which they may be evaluated.
  • The examination must not be narrowly limited to the dissertation topic.
  • The examiners should satisfy themselves, by unanimous vote, that the student demonstrated sufficient command of the three subject areas.
  • Once an application for admission to the Qualifying Examination is approved by the Graduate Division, the program has 18 months to administer the examination. 
  • If, before the date of the approved examination, a change in the student’s health or personal situation makes it too difficult to take the examination as scheduled, the student must make this known to the examination chair and the GSAO so a postponement can be arranged. 
  • If allowed a retake, the student who has partially failed an examination must be orally examined before the full committee on all portions failed in the first Qualifying Examination.  
  • A business week or earlier, the GSAO should confirm with the student that the committee listed in CalCentral is the QE committee that will be present for the examination. If there are changes to the committee a Change of Higher Degrees Committee eForm should be submitted and approved prior to examination. 


Dear Graduate Division,

I’m writing to notify you that [Student Name]s QE will be held with all faculty participating remotely using

. [Student] will be participating in [location], using [alternative method] to attend the exam. All QE Committee members, [Committee member names here] will be [location of committee members] also attending the meeting via [remote method]. 

The exam will follow the standard practice of a [three] hour oral exam. The remote members will be present for the entire exam. All QE committee members (any physically present and remote members) will deliberate and vote together following the exam. No other changes are requested. It will take place on [date].


Head Graduate Advisor