Academic Policies & Procedures

Doctoral Students

Doctoral Qualifying Examination Procedures

To become a candidate for the Ph.D. degree, and to proceed with the dissertation research project, students must pass a comprehensive qualifying examination and submit a Nomination to Candidacy Form to the School of Public Health - Bloomington records office, room 115. The qualifying examination covers the fundamentals of the fields in which specialization has been elected. The examination will not be limited to the subject matter of the courses taken. The examination consists of a written portion and an oral portion.The information below includes a step-by-step description of procedures for the traditional format for the written portion of the examination. Alternatively, a doctoral student’s advisory committee may design and administer the written portion of the qualifying examination differently in order to assess the student’s fitness for doctoral candidacy in a different way. Text here and below which refers to procedures for an alternative written examination format will be in italics.

Specific dates for the traditionally formatted written portion of the doctoral qualifying examination are scheduled during fall semesters and spring semesters. If all members of the student's advisory committee are available, and if approval is obtained from the executive associate dean, a student may apply to take the qualifying examinations during the summer term. Alternatively formatted written examinations are not subject to the specifically scheduled dates of the traditional format. Such examinations may take place at any time or times:

  • agreed upon by the advisory committee and the student.
  • when the student has completed the appropriate course work.
[Important note: The date on which a student's Ph.D. degree is awarded must be at least eight months after the passing date of the qualifying examination.]


Doctoral Qualifying Examination Procedures

  1. Students who have been admitted to a Ph.D. degree program pending completion of a master’s or equivalent degree are expected to have completed this degree before taking the qualifying examination. Students pursuing Ph.D. degrees in environmental health, epidemiology, and health behavior must provide the graduate recorder with a transcript showing completion of this degree before the student may take the doctoral qualifying examination.
  2. A student must submit the Application for Doctoral Qualifying Examination Form to the chair of the student's advisory committee at least four weeks before the stated examination date. Paper copies of this form are available in SPH 115. The form is also available online at
  3. The completed Application for Doctoral Qualifying Examination Form, including the signatures of each member of the student's advisory committee, must be submitted to the School of Public Health - Bloomington records office, room 115, at least three weeks before the stated date of the examination. Dates for the traditional written examination are predetermined. Dates or date-ranges for the written portion of an alternatively formatted examination must be disclosed on the Application for Doctoral Qualifying Examination Form. For an alternatively formatted written examination, the period between the start date and the due date may not exceed 30 days.
  4. The School of Public Health - Bloomington graduate recorder determines eligibility of the applicant to sit for the examination. To sit for the examination, a student must have completed the required research skill courses, and be within one course of completing the 90 credit (major, minor, and elective) portion of the course prescription. If a student passes the qualifying examination with one outstanding incomplete course, this course must be completed before submission of the Nomination to Candidacy Form. All 90 course prescription credits must be no older than 7 years on the date of the qualifying examination. Any course on the course prescription, which is older than 7 years on this date must receive revalidation approval before a student will be able to sit for the qualifying examination.
  5. Each member of the advisory committee is informed, by letter and e-mail, of the scheduled examination.
  6. Advisory committee members submit questions to the committee chair. This step may be different or nonexistent if the alternative format is employed.
  7. The committee chair submits a properly formatted examination to the School of Public Health - Bloomington Dean's Office at least one week before the examination date. If an alternative format is employed, the committee chair must submit a description of the written portion of the qualifying examination to the School of Public Health - Bloomington Dean's Office at least one week before examination date.
  8. The written portion of the qualifying examination takes place.
  9. The student's questions and resulting answers are forwarded to the committee members by e-mail, and one hard copy is maintained in the School of Public Health - Bloomington Dean's office. Results from alternative testing are maintained by the advisory committee, and reported to the School of Public Health - Bloomington Dean's Office.
  10. The oral portion of the qualifying examination must take place within a month following the written examination. Permission to exceed a month between the written and oral portions of the examination must be obtained from the associate dean for research and graduate studies.
  11. If a student passes the qualifying examination, a notification letter will be sent to the student with a Nomination to Candidacy Form.
  12. In the event of a failure of the qualifying examination, a letter will be sent, notifying the student of the failure and the opportunity for one more attempt to pass the examination.
  13. In the event of a second failure, the student will be notified of formal dismissal from the doctoral program. No future registrations will be permitted through the School of Public Health - Bloomington.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Question: If I have completed my research tool skills, and all the courses on my course prescription, but I have two courses which have incomplete grades, can I take the qualifying examination?
Answer: No, you must only have one course in which an appropriate grade is not yet posted.

Question: A few of my old courses were revalidated. It took me longer than expected to prepare for my quals. During the extra time it took me to finish my prescribed courses, another course on my course prescription became more than 7 years old. Will this be a problem?
Answer: Yes, but it is not insurmountable. If you have maintained currency of knowledge in the subject matter of the old course, you may ask your committee chair to add a request to revalidate that course to the document containing the other course-revalidation requests. If you have not remained current in the subject matter of that course, then you and your advisor must seek a different solution. The worst case scenario would require you to complete more course work before sitting for the qualifying exam.

Question: My minor representative does not wish to be involved in the qualifying examination. Is this OK?
Answer: Yes, the minor advisor may, but does not have to submit questions for the written examination. Also, the minor advisor may, but does not have to attend the oral qualifying examination.

Question: If my minor advisor submits written questions for my qualifying exam, does my minor advisor have to participate in my oral qualifying examination?
Answer: No, it is still optional for the minor advisor.

Question: Are School of Public Health - Bloomington Ph.D. students required to be registered during the semester or summer session during which qualifying exams are taken?
Answer: The School of Public Health - Bloomington does not require that Ph.D. students be enrolled during the semester or summer session for which the qualification examination is taken. However, there are various reasons a student may need to be registered, including assistantship awards, scholarships, insurance, compliance with SEVIS (for international students only), etc. Students should evaluate their individual situation and contact the appropriate source(s) to determine if enrollment is required.

Question: Can I apply to take the qualifying examination if I currently do not meet the criteria, but I will by the time the test is administered?
Answer: Yes, you may apply to take the qualifying exam even though you do not meet the criteria by the application deadline to take the exam, as long as you will have met the criteria when the exam is administered. In a case such as this, the student should inform the graduate recorder of the situation when submitting the application so an explanation of the student’s situation will be noted on the application. The administrative secretary for academic affairs will schedule the exam and send an e-mail message to the student, stating the specific criteria that need to be met in order to take the exam. The secretary will check with the graduate recorder before the exam to see that the criteria have been met. If the criteria are not met by the exam date, the student will not be allowed to take the exam.

Question: How is the written qualifying exam administered?
Answer: Under the traditional written qualifying examination format, a student’s advisory committee members write the qualifying exam questions. The minor advisor has the option not to submit questions if so desired. Major exam questions are given to the student in four parts. Students first see, and must answer, questions during four, two and a half hour sessions. If the minor advisor submits questions, those are presented to the student and answered in another session. The student normally answers all written exam questions using Microsoft Word, on a computer without Internet access or any files that could help the student. The student is not normally allowed to have reference materials. Alternative written examination formats are permitted and may vary in structure.

Question: How is the oral qualifying exam administered?
Answer: Not more than a month after the written exam, the advisory committee members (This may or may not include the minor advisor.) meet with the student for an oral question and answer session.

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