Doctoral Preliminary Examinations

Doctoral students must complete both a written and oral preliminary examination. The written prelim is taken prior to the oral prelim. The written prelim can be taken before the GPAS degree plan is approved, but a substantial amount of coursework should be completed. When both prelims have been successfully completed, the student has advanced to doctoral candidacy and will typically qualify for advanced doctoral status.

The UMN Policy on Doctoral Degree: Performance Standards and Progress, in particular Section IV: Doctoral Preliminary Written and Oral Exams, has more detailed information on the exam requirements, committee, and voting. The NRSM program does not prescribe a standard format for the preliminary exams. We encourage students to consult with their advisor and committee members well in advance of the preliminary exams to discuss their timing and format.

Written Preliminary Examination

The student’s advisor is in charge of administering the written prelim. Questions, which are solicited by the advisor from committee members, may deal with subject matter (i.e., related to courses the student has taken) or be related to the proposed research (i.e., methods, data collection, data analysis, theory). The general format of the exam is the choice of the committee and could include written responses to questions, writing a research proposal, or analyzing a data set, among other formats. 

Students are encouraged to talk to their advisor about the written prelim to get a sense of what they might anticipate. Below are some various test conditions the committee may consider:

  • Closed book/resource vs. open book/resource (and how scoring expectations may differ for these),
  • As few as two questions up to six questions or more,
  • Administration of one question at a time over a period of a week or more, 
  • Administration of one question per day for several days, 
  • Administration of all questions at one time.

Typically, the committee member who supplied the question is responsible for scoring it, and scores for individual questions are usually accompanied by comments from the scorer. The advisor and committee decide together if the student has passed, based on the total score of all questions. Sometimes it is possible to pass the exam even if the student has not successfully answered a question; at other times, the committee may decide that all questions must be answered successfully in order to receive a clear pass.

The options for scoring the written exam are Pass, Pass with Reservations, and Fail. If the student has passed with reservations, the reservations must be lifted before the student can proceed with the prelim oral.

Upon completion of the written prelim, the graduate program coordinator must be notified and will formally report the result to the Graduate School. Please ask your advisor to report your results to the NRSM program office at [email protected].

Oral Preliminary Examination

The format of this exam will follow Graduate School guidelines. Consult the Graduate School's Preliminary Exam Committee page for specific guidelines and requirements. The oral prelim must be scheduled with the Graduate School at least one week in advance using their online scheduling system

The oral preliminary exam can include questions on content related to the student’s discipline of study, past coursework, proposed research, and/or follow-up on responses to the written preliminary exam. Students are encouraged to consult with their advisor and committee members well in advance of the oral preliminary exam to discuss the content and format to be expected on the exam.

The following milestones must be completed prior to the oral preliminary exam:

The Oral Preliminary Exam form is launched as a workflow after the Graduate School has authorized your exam. All committee members must have and use a valid UMN e-mail address to submit a score via the workflow. The options for scoring are Pass, Pass with Reservations, and Fail. After all committee members have submitted their scores, the final exam form, complete with scores, is sent to the student via e-mail.