The Qualifying Exam is taken at the end of the first year in the program. It is designed to test whether the scholar is sufficiently prepared to go on with the program, conduct the research, and write a thesis. The outcome of the exam can be pass, fail, or incomplete.
The scholar is tested on his or her knowledge of the subject matter of the courses he has taken while in the program, and on the strength of his K-23 proposal. A list of the courses and a copy of the K-23 proposal must be submitted to each member of the Qualifying Exam Committee at least two weeks prior to the exam.
The usual committee to conduct the exam is the scholar's advisory committee, together with the director or an associate director of the program.
The committee must decide on a chairperson to run the meeting. This cannot be the mentor, who is to remain silent during most of the meeting. The chairperson makes notes and at the end writes a short summary of the discussion to give to the scholar and the program director.
- The exam starts with the scholar making a 20-minute oral and power point presentation of his K-23 proposal. This should be un-interrupted, with questions jotted down for later.
- The committee will then ask questions about any aspect of the research, and any of the courses that the scholar has taken. The mentor will not participate, except to sit quietly. This section will last about 45 minutes.
- When all the questions have been posed and answered, the scholar leaves the room. The committee is then free to ask questions of the mentor, and to discuss the scholar at length. The chairperson directs the session and writes recommendations for the scholar. The committee decides if the scholar passed or failed the exam, or whether he should be given an Incomplete and required to come back with more information at a later date.
- When they are ready, the committee invites the scholar back into the room, and he is given an oral critique by the chairperson. A written critique is sent in a couple of days. The Results of the Qualifying Exam are sent to the Graduate School. If the scholar has finished 30 graded credits, then an Admission to Candidacy form is sent to the Graduate School. If the credits are incomplete, the Admission to Candidacy form will be submitted to the Graduate School after they have been completed.