The General/Experimental Program Preliminary Exam Policy

This policy is valid for students admitted in fall, 2010 and afterwards. 

Purposes of the Preliminary Examination

The purposes of the preliminary examination are to:

  1. enhance the breadth of knowledge of the doctoral candidate in the cluster of research specialization.
  2. encourage synthesis of the major theories, overarching themes, significant and generative studies, and the identification of key questions requiring further research based upon the list of foundational readings prepared by the cluster faculty.
  3. promote independent scholarship

The Examination

The preliminary examination occurs after completion of the master’s thesis and before the dissertation proposal. The examination must be completed within two semesters of the master’s thesis defense. Students who joined the program with a master’s thesis should complete the examination within their first two academic years in the program. Students should work with their advisor and cluster to identify a two day examination period. The advisor will be responsible for coordinating the preliminary exam, including developing the reading list in consultation with the student and cluster members, developing the exam questions in consultation with cluster members, distributing the exam to the student, and facilitating grading and feedback.

To enhance the breadth of knowledge in the cluster of research specialization, the student's cluster faculty in consultation with the student will prepare a list of foundational readings on topics that would distinguish the doctoral candidate as well-versed in the major theories, themes, basic empirical findings, scholarly limitations, and directions for further study in the area of research of the cluster. For human behavioral pharmacology or communication sciences students, the preliminary exam must include at least one member of the biobehavioral, clinical, developmental, or social cluster faculty who the student has taken a course with, to ensure the inclusion of material related to the student's coursework.

The readings will include perhaps one survey textbook (or other broad-based reading to provide a general framework) in the area of the cluster of research specialization and typically 20-30 other foundational sources consisting of book chapters and periodicals. The candidate's research supervisor may also include additional readings that would provide breadth of knowledge in the candidate's focal research area. Each cluster will construct their tailored list of readings in consultation with the candidate and update the list annually or as needed. Care will be exercised to make the volume of readings as comparable as possible across clusters. Lastly, a list of themes will be distributed along with the list of readings to provide a cognitive framework to promote ongoing analysis and synthesis of the readings by the candidate. It is expected that the candidate will go beyond the provided readings to further develop their understanding of the themes. Specific examination questions will be constructed from the list of themes and distributed to the candidate on day 1 of the two-day Examination Period. The final reading list must be provided to the student within one month of the defense of the master’s thesis.

The exam will consist of responding to one question prepared by the candidate's research supervisor and then four out of seven questions (5 to 7 pages in length per question) prepared by all the cluster faculty*. The examination questions will be distributed to the candidate(s) at 9:00 am on day one (1) of the examination period, and answers will be submitted electronically by the candidate to the research supervisor or designee by no later than 5:00 pm on day two (2) of the examination period. The examination will be evaluated by all the faculty members of the cluster. There must be a minimum of two faculty readers per answer.  Also, a core faculty member from one of the academic clusters in the Department of Psychological Science (i.e., clinical, social, developmental, or biobehavioral) must serve as a reader for at least two answers. The cluster faculty will assign a grade of "satisfactory" or "not satisfactory" by no later than the ten (10) business days from the date of submission of the examination. If needed, the doctoral candidate will be given one opportunity to rectify an outcome other than satisfactory during the next semester at the latest. Rectification may consist of re-answering some or all of the questions or taking a new exam, at the discretion of the cluster.

It is important for the candidate to keep in mind that the preliminary examination is first and foremost an exercise in independent synthesis and scholarly development. However, the candidate will have the opportunity, if s/he so desires, to lead the cluster in discussion and/or meet with individual faculty in the cluster regarding insights, engaging and generative ideas, and key theories and themes developed to date based upon the foundational readings.

Students may contact the General/Experimental Director for example questions from previous exams.

*The cluster faculty for the preliminary exam must include at least one core faculty member from one of the academic clusters in the Department of Psychological Science (i.e., clinical, social, developmental, or biobehavioral).

Revised March 20, 2019