The Qualifying Examination
PhD course work at the Divinity School culminates in the qualifying examination, which the PhD student takes within three calendar years of approval from the Committee on Degrees of the course of study petition. (The precise timing is determined by the student in consultation with the advisor and other faculty examiners.) The process of study leading up to the examination provides an opportunity for systematic consideration of the student's field of professional competence in religious studies, as well as in at least one other related field. The examination itself is intended to demonstrate the student's general knowledge of the scholarship in these professional fields of competence and also the student's readiness to pursue a dissertation. The qualifying examination contains both written and oral components. Students register for exams no later than the first week of the quarter in which the exams will be taken. To register, please submit a completed PhD Qualifying Examination Application (including advisorial approval) to the Dean of Students.
The written examinations test the student's ability to organize, synthesize, and analyze a substantial body of knowledge and reading in response to questions set by the faculty. The student completes four written examinations selected from those offered by the areas of study in the Divinity School. The student will usually complete two or three examinations in his or her area of concentration and one or two from another area. Some areas may encourage students to complete two examinations in the area of concentration and two from other areas.
Each written examination is four hours in length, and students pick up the questions at the Divinity School and return them there. (Time will be allowed before and after each exam for pick-up and return. In exceptional cases, space will be provided to write exams in Swift Hall.) The Divinity School faculty regards the optimal length of a student's answer to any one set of examination questions to be a total of 3,000 to 4,500 words, or ten to fifteen typed, double-spaced pages. Students have the options of writing by hand or typing their answers.
The oral examination tests the student's ability to engage in discussion of issues relevant to his or her fields of competence. The focus of the conversation will be discussion of the student's answers on the written examinations and discussion of a research paper that reflects the student's principal current interest. Based on consultation between the student and the student's advisor, the research paper will ordinarily have as its topic a subject in the student's intended area of dissertation research, and should indicate the student's capacity for writing a dissertation. The paper should be twenty-five to forty pages, typed and double-spaced, and should be submitted to all examiners early in (ideally during the first week of) the quarter in which the student plans to take the qualifying examination.
The student's advisor for the course of study convenes the oral examination and is specifically responsible for communicating its result to the student at the conclusion of the examination. The Dean of Students writes to each examinee following the oral examination week to communicate formally the result of his or her qualifying examination.
A student who has not completed the qualifying examination within three years of the approval of the course of study must consult with the Dean of Students to establish a satisfactory deadline for its completion.
Although bibliographies for individual exams may change from time to time, a student is entitled to take the qualifying examination based on the bibliography in effect when his or her course of study petition is approved by the Committee on Degrees, so long as the student takes the examination within five years of that date. A student who has not taken the qualifying examination within that five-year period will ordinarily use the bibliographies in effect at the time the examination is taken. A student who has not completed the qualifying examination and has been out of residence for a total of five years or more must take the examination in effect at the time of resumption of residency.
To achieve a passing grade on the qualifying examination, a student must normally accomplish the following:
1. Score B or higher on all written examinations.
2. Complete the oral examination at a satisfactory level, as determined by the examining committee (this includes production of a satisfactory research document).
In cases where most or all of the written examinations are at a B level, a strong oral examination is necessary in order for the student to pass the qualifying examination. Grades on qualifying examinations are not subject to appeal, and failed qualifying examinations may not be retaken.