Ph.D. Preliminary Examination


Dates of Written Preliminary Examination

The department administers written preliminary examinations in October and March. The exact deadlines are posted each semester on the ISWD website. You may also contact the graduate coordinator.

Requirements to Take the Examination

  • Completed examination application. The office associate in IED Room 100 distributes the application.
  • Approved Program of Study
  • Committee Request Form
  • 3.00 GPA on all courses attempted for graduate credit after admission to the degree program (i.e., program and non-program courses)
  • Course Requirements
    • The student must be within six hours of completing the coursework and must have completed all statistics and research courses.
    • The minor examination must be completed prior to taking the written preliminary examination.

Components of the Written Preliminary Examination

The written preliminary examination is comprised of three examination periods:

Thursday Afternoon Friday Morning Friday Afternoon
1 p.m. - 5 p.m. 8 a.m. - Noon 1 p.m. - 5 p.m.
Exam Part Subject Area Tested
Part One: Research and statistics. (4 hours). The examination covers the 20 hours of research and statistics required in the degree. This examination is administered on Thursday, 1 p.m. - 5 p.m.
Part Two: Foundations AND postsecondary knowledge and approved technology major area. (4 hours). The portion of the examination includes questions in the foundations AND postsecondary requirements of the degree as well as one question on the approved technology major area of the degree. This examination is administered on Friday morning, 8 a.m. to noon.
Part Three: Technology major area. (4 hours). This portion of the examination includes two questions from the approved technology area of the degree. This examination is administered on Friday afternoon, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The examination is administered online through Canvas. For the examination period, students need to log into Canvas: ISWD Comprehensive Exams, download the questions, write the answers, then upload back to Canvas before time is up. This is a taken-home exam, and students are allowed to use notes and resources during the examination. To prevent plagiarizing, exam answers will be checked through the plagiarism program.

Preparations for Written Preliminary Examination

Acquire Study Guides

The student will request a study guide from each of his/her committee members. The study guide (not exam questions) will guide the student in specific areas of study. The application to take the examination cannot be completed until the student has received all study guides.

Tips for Preparing for the Examination

  • Prepare for the Examination Early. Begin studying for the preliminary examination when you enter the Ph.D. degree. Throughout your course work, save all course lectures and notes to use later for study materials while preparing for the preliminary examination. Build a notebook (paper or digital) that combines information and research articles that can be used as study materials.
  • Set Aside Time to Study. As the time approaches to take the exam, devote time each week for preparing for the examination.
  • Research Study Guide Topics. Spend time on the research needed to complete the examination questions. Refer to course notes and scholarly research articles and books related to the study guide topics.
  • Practice Answering a Question. Ask your major advisor to provide a practice question. Write your response in a timed setting. Review and rewrite your response. Ask your major advisor to critique using the examination rubric.
  • Form Study Groups. Find fellow Ph.D. students and form a study group to discuss ways to prepare for the examination.

Tips When Taking the Examination

  • Use the Rubric to Guide Quality of Response. Review the rubric and be sure you are addressing all components of the rubric in the answer. The components are Completeness, Knowledge, Organization, and Quality of Writing.
  • Practice Time Management During the Examination. Do not spend an excessive amount of time on one question and attempt to rush the others. Attempting to answer all questions will be essential in reaching the passing score and excelling on the examination.
  • Evaluate the Length of Answer. Over the years many students have asked about the number of pages expected. Although it seems a perplexing question, the answer is quite simple. Write enough pages to fully answer the question and show the committee mastery of the subject. Again, refer to the rubric as it describes the criterion for completeness, knowledge, organization, and quality of writing.
  • Document Response with Sources. Knowledge of examination question is best evidenced by use of sources/citations to support the knowledge presented in the question. Although in most scenarios you will not be expected to memorize the entirety of an APA reference, you will be expected to show concrete evidence and knowledge of your sources which may include the author(s), journal, and article where information or quote was taken. You will not be permitted to use the Internet, email, or any resources you may have collected.
  • Quality of Writing. Always remember that this is also a writing exam and students will be expected to use proper grammar, spelling, and sentence structure. Writing should be done in an academic form and not written as simply conversational. See the organization element on the grading rubric that clearly expects an introduction, body, and summary.

Rubric for Evaluating Written Preliminary Examination

See the link below.

Written Preliminary Examination Rubric

Oral Preliminary Examination

The oral preliminary examination will be give three to four weeks after the student passes the written preliminary examination. The students should contact his/her major professor concerning their oral preliminary examination. During the oral preliminary examination, graduate committee members will pose questions regarding your answers to the written preliminary examination. You may be asked to clarify, expand, or justify your answers.


See the link below for the oral preliminary examination rubric.

Rubric for Oral Preliminary Examination