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PhD Exams: Qualifying Exams

Qualifying Exams Information

  • Qualifying exams last for 4 hours. Your time will not start until after you have logged in and established your identity with the Examity proctor.
  • Read the scheduling instructions below before filling out the form on this page.
  • Qualifying exams are essentially essays written on questions specific to a student's academic program and disciplines. They usually involve demonstrating analytic and synthetic mastery of the works listed in specific bibliographies that the student creates in consultation with an advisor and exam committee members. They culminate in an oral defense with a faculty committee selected by the student.
  • Before you prepare for your quals, check in with the CST Registrar to make sure that you have no other outstanding requirements. You cannot take quals if you have not completed all other program requirements besides the proposal and dissertation.
  • To begin preparing, discuss your goals for your exams and your dissertation with your advisor. Work with each of your committee members individually to determine the topics and format of each exam. Check the CST Catalog to see what requirements your program has for qualifying exams.
  • The dissertation proposal or proposal draft is usually due and discussed at the oral defense. Your committee chair will determine how you should handle your proposal in relation to your quals. For more information on dissertations and proposals, see the Dissertations and DMin Projects LibGuide.
  • Once you have submitted the application form, the Exams Coordinator will contact the registrar and your committee members for their approval. All approvals must be on file before you can begin taking your exams.

Scheduling Qualifying Exams


PhD qualifying exams must take place within a two-week window. Then, in order to give your committee time to read and evaluate your exams, the oral examination, also called the defense, must take place between seven and fourteen days after the last qualifying exam. Because you will need to coordinate the schedules of several professors for the oral examination, you need to schedule backwards.

Direct any questions about scheduling to the Exam Coordinator.

THINK AHEAD. In the example below, a defense date in May might require action in March. The earlier you can schedule, the better.

For this example, imagine that you want to complete your exams before 2022 commencement (May 17).

  • Check the blackout dates on the first tab of this guide. In 2022, you will not be able to schedule any proctored exams between May 15 and 21. Whether you can schedule your oral defense during blackout dates is up to your committee, but make sure that you are still able to schedule your proctored exams within allowed dates.
  • Discuss defense dates with your committee. The spring semester is very busy with exams and dissertation defenses, and each of your professors is serving on multiple committees on top of teaching their courses, but imagine you are able to decide on May 3 as your defense date. Since in-person defenses are currently not advised, have your committee chair schedule a Zoom meeting with you and the rest of your committee as participants.
  • Count backwards seven to fourteen days from May 3. April 19 is the earliest you can take your last proctored exam. April 26 is the latest.
  • Looking at your schedule, you decide that you want to take your last exam on April 26. Now you can schedule your other exams. For this example, you are sitting four proctored exams and have no exam papers.
  • All three of your other exams must be done within two weeks of the final one, so the earliest you can schedule your first exam is April 12. 
  • You cannot take more than one exam on the same day, and it is advised that you leave at least one day in between exams to rest and prepare.
  • Choose your dates and book your exams using the form on this page. You must book at least one month before your first exam. Depending on your exam dates, that could be two months before your defense. For example, if your first exam is April 12, you must book by March 12.
  • Any papers that you write in lieu of proctored exams will be due to the Exam Coordinator on the same day as the latest proctored exam. If you are writing any papers, factor your writing needs into your exam planning.
  • You may book exams on Friday evenings, Saturdays, or Sundays, but any exams taken on weekends may not be delivered to your committee until the following business day.
  • Exam papers (non-proctored) do not need their own dates. They will be due to the Exam Coordinator on the same day as the final proctored exam

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