Qualifying Examinations

Qualifying Examinations

To qualify for nomination to candidacy, doctoral students must pass the HESA qualifying exam. Each student works with their program advisory committee chair to determine 1) readiness to take the exam and 2) whether a minor exam is required. Once the advisor approves, the student applies to take the exam.

Prior to Application - A student must meet the following conditions to take the qualifying exam:

  • Have satisfied any conditions or post-matriculation requirements as related to their admission
  • Have an appointed program advisory committee and a completed doctoral program of studies that has been reviewed and approved by the advisory committee, and submitted to the Graduate Studies Office
  • Have completed all major courses, with the allowable exception of EDUC C788 Seminar in Research in Higher Education, also known as “Literature Review,” and EDUC C795 Dissertation Prep, with no more than six credit hours graded as incomplete
  • Have completed the early inquiry requirement (PhD program only)

Application - The student submits the HESA Qualifying Exam Application Form along with their program of study to the HESA student services staff member, who verifies that the student 1) is eligible to take the exam, and 2) has the advisor’s approval to take the exam.  The application can be submitted at any time of the year with the agreement of the advisor, but should be submitted at least 2 weeks prior to the exam date.

Before the Qualifying Exam Period - The student works with the advisor to set the start date for the exam. The advisor will also work in consultation with the student to prepare the Part 2 question.  For Part 1, the advisor selects 5-6 topics from the master list of topics for the year, excluding topics that are similar to the Part 2 question. The student has access to the master list, but will not see the list of topics chosen by the advisor until they receive the exam. The student submits the signed HESA Qualifying Exam Pledge to the HESA student services staff member. Questions will not be released until the pledge is received.

Qualifying Exam Period - The exam period can be scheduled for any 2-week period per mutual agreement between the student and the advisor. The student will have 14 days to prepare written responses to Parts 1 and 2.

Purpose - Part 1 of the qualifying exam is intended to be broad in scope so students can demonstrate their ability to integrate knowledge from many sources and bring this to bear on the selected topic (breadth). Part 2 is intended to see how "expert" students are in an areas they consider to be their strength (depth). Part 2 is typically related to a student’s likely dissertation topic.

Part 2 questions must address some aspect of inquiry. For example, the research component might ask for a brief research protocol. Students may be asked to focus on substantive issues that justify research on a particular topic. They may be asked to describe the research approaches that have been useful in studying the topic including a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches.  

The ability to synthesize and apply the literature is expected in both responses. 

Minor Exam - A minor area qualifying examination is generally not required for education majors who are minoring in another education program area. Students whose minor is outside of education may or may not have to take a minor examination, depending on the policy of the minor department.

If the student cannot complete both parts during the agreed-upon time frame, the entire series must be taken again in another testing period. Emergencies will be handled by the program coordinator on a case-by-case basis.  If you have questions or concerns, please contact your program advisor.

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