Qualifying Exams

Qualifying examinations

Qualifying exams are given upon completion of at least 60 credit hours of graduate course work at IU and completion of the first- and second-year projects. Students may not advance to candidacy until all required coursework including S681 and S682 (90 credit hours, including transferred credits) is completed. For students without a previous graduate degree (e.g., those who are not transferring credit), the exam typically is administered upon completion of 90 credit hours of coursework at Indiana University. Students are generally expected to take the qualifying exams before the end of their third year of the Ph.D. program. Qualifying exams and submission of forms indicating successful completion of the exam (link provided in section on Assessment, below) must be completed at least eight (8) months prior to graduation. Qualifying exams will test students’ knowledge of three areas (one question per area). Students may choose among the following formats, with at least one question answered using the traditional format.

Qualifying exam committee

The advisory committee typically also serves as your qualifying committee; but it is not necessary to maintain the same faculty members on both committees. The qualifying exam committee should represent the student’s areas of research interest as well as areas of knowledge. Although students are not required to take courses from all members of the qualifying exam committee, the committee members should be capable of evaluating the student in at least one examination area. Students with a major in SPHS and a minor in another department should plan to have three SPHS faculty and one faculty from the minor department on the qualifying exam committee. Double majors in SPHS and another department should have two faculty members from each department on the exam committee. The committee composition cannot change once the qualifying exam process, as described below, has begun.

Traditional format

Students will discuss with their qualifying exam committee a list of potential exam topics at least 4 weeks prior to the exam. The qualifying exam committee and student will also decide on the dates for the exam and the order of assignment of questions across the 2-3 day, traditional exam-period. Students may discuss the topic of the exam and reading lists with the committee administering the exam but sample questions, copies of previous questions, or bibliographies selected by the advisory committee will not be given to the student ahead of time.

Students will receive the questions for the traditional exam format at the time the exam is administered. Unless approved by the student’s Qualifying Examination Committee, the student is not permitted to use books, notes, the Internet, or any other study materials during the exam. A member of the Qualifying Examination Committee is to be responsible for proctoring this exam.

The student will write his or her answers using a computer that has been disconnected from the Internet. The proctor must also verify that the computer does not contain any materials that may be of benefit to the student. The student will be given 4 hours to complete the answer to each question. The answer should be of sufficient length to address the issues satisfactorily.

Students must be tested on at least one area using this format. Students may choose (with the qualifying committee’s input) to be tested on up to three areas using this format.

Outside paper format

Students may complete up to two exam questions with paper(s) written independently. As noted previously, at least one question must be answered in the traditional exam format. For questions answered in the ‘outside paper format’ the qualifying exam committee will generate up to two theoretically challenging questions, depending on the number of questions being tested in this format. The objective is to provide the student with the opportunity to demonstrate breadth of knowledge in developing an integrated and compelling set of arguments to support his/her response.

The student is given one month per question to write each paper. If two papers are being written, the papers will be written sequentially, with one month (four weeks) provided for the writing of each paper (i.e. a total of eight weeks to answer both questions but student is provided with only one question per month). The body of each paper must be a minimum of 25 pages in length, double-spaced in 12-point font, with references and supporting materials to follow.

Minor area exam

The department of the student’s minor area of study determines whether an examination in the minor is given. If it is, one of the three questions will be from the minor.

Double majors

The qualifying exam of a double major is to be determined by both departments (i.e., SPHS and other major). Students completing a double major typically answer two questions per major. The SPHS exam is to be shortened to two areas, one of which must be taken in the traditional format.


Each question will be prepared by at least two faculty members who will also evaluate the response to that question. The faculty writing each question must be identified for the student at least 4 weeks prior to the exam. The faculty members need not be members of the Advisory Committee though this committee typically also serves as your qualifying exam committee.

Faculty from your qualifying exam committee will be given no more than three weeks to read your responses to qualifying exam questions. During this time frame, students also will be given copies of their written responses. A single meeting for oral defense of the student’s written responses to qualifying exam questions will take place no more three weeks after the written exam is completed, regardless of the format of the written exam (i.e., all questions in traditional format or some traditional and some outside papers). Students are advised to write their answers to the traditional exam questions after writing the outside paper(s), if they choose this format.

At least two faculty members from the qualifying exam committee evaluate the student’s responses to each exam question. Questions that arise from this evaluation will be posed to the student during the oral defense. If the two readers cannot agree on whether a student’s response is adequate and acceptable, a third reader will be named by the Qualifying Exam Committee to break the deadlock. Copies of the student’s answers to the qualifying exam questions along with the readers’ evaluations will become a part of the student’s file.

Possible outcomes of each exam answer (area) are: Pass, Low-Pass, or Fail. Students who receive a Pass in all areas of the exam may apply for advancement to candidacy. A Low-Pass in any area of the exam will require further work, the form of which is to be determined by the Qualifying Exam Committee (e.g., a formal paper, taking additional coursework, independent study). The student may not advance to candidacy until the Low-Pass has been converted to a Pass. This change is made when the student successfully completes the remediation plan developed by the qualifying exam committee. Failure of any portion of the exam requires rewriting the qualifying exam and will result in the student being placed on academic probation by the College. Any student who fails all or part of the qualifying exam should meet with the PhD coordinator to discuss the results and how to proceed. Procedures for rewriting a part or all of the qualifying examinations are left to the discretion of the Qualifying Exam Committee, with the caveat that qualifying exams may be rewritten one time only. Failure of the rewrite will result in dismissal from the doctoral program. For these reasons, it is recommended that students take adequate time to rewrite the qualifying exam.