Photo Credits

Header photo (right):
Credit: Laura Lartigue, Courtesy of Photoshare
Caption: The International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES), an USAID-sponsored non-governmental organization is bringing citizens into the political dialogue through a nationwide civil society strengthening program. In this photo, taken in Bokariah village, Guinea, an IFES field agent explains to villagers how their tax money can be used to pay for community projects, like the construction of bridges or schools. Bokariah, Guinea.

Header photo (left):
Credit: © 2007 Sudipto Das, Courtesy of Photoshare
Caption: A farmer and his family members plow the land in a village in West Midnapore, West Bengal, India

Preliminary Examination

Each student will complete a prelim exam. The purpose of the exam is to assure that the student is ready to undertake research and to prepare the student for designing and conducting such research.



The prelim exam will be completed within no more than six semesters beyond admission to the program. If more time elapses, a letter of justification must be filed with the Program Chair, and it must be accepted before permission to take the prelims is given.

At least three weeks before the exam, upon receiving notice from the advisor, the Program Office will submit the warrant request to the Graduate School. A warrant will not be issued if the student has incomplete grades or progress grades in anything other than research/thesis (usually 990).


Under the supervision of the advisor, the student's committee will prepare the prelims. The committee will meet at the request of the student at least six weeks before the intended exam to identify common themes in the student's Program of Study, and to discuss issues and methods relevant to the student's interests and research focus. Subsequently, each committee member will submit question(s) to the advisor who will prepare the exam. There may be a need for communication between the advisor and other committee members to refine the final design of the exam.

Typically a seven-day, take home, open book, written exam format is used. There must be a written component in the exam. The committee, however, is free to alter other aspects of the typical format to best achieve the purpose and focus of the exam. This can include an oral presentation to complement the written exam. The design of the exam will provide a time frame in which the student can be reasonably expected to complete it.


The prelim exam will evaluate the student's competence related to both problems and methods pertinent to the research interest. It will reflect an interdisciplinary perspective on development research, theory and practice. The exam will focus on the student's course work, knowledge of the relevant literature, ability to identify and analyze interesting issues, grasp of appropriate research methods, and ability to conduct advanced research. The exam questions will test both the breadth and depth of the student's knowledge.

The student may request sample copies of previous prelim questions from the Program Office or members of their committee. In reviewing such questions, the student must keep in mind that each exam is prepared with a focus and design tailored to each individual student. When meeting with the committee to identify themes for the exam, the student can also ask for guidance on literature to review and other helpful preparations to consider.


The committee members will evaluate the student's performance in the prelims, considering the student's breadth and depth of understanding of exam topics and demonstrated ability to analyze critically relevant research issues. The committee will determine whether the student passes or fails the exam. A copy of the exam, along with the decision of the committee, will be filed with the Program Chair. Upon success, committee members will sign the Graduate School warrant certifying that the exam has been successfully completed. The signed warrant will be returned to the Program Office, which will forward it to the Graduate School. The advisor will notify the student of the committee decision. The student is granted Ph.D. candidacy by the Graduate School upon successful completion of the exam and must maintain continuous registration in dissertator status which is three credits of Research and Thesis through the advisor's home department.

In case the committee judges that the student has failed the prelim exam, the advisor will provide feedback to the student on areas of strength and deficiencies. A student who fails the exam can request that the committee allow a re-examination. The advisor, in consultation with the members of the committee may ask the student to carry out additional coursework or other preparation before retaking the exam. If the advisor, in consultation with the committee, does not agree that a second exam is justified, the student can appeal this decision to the Governance Committee.

The Governance Committee, subject to the limits set by the Graduate School, is responsible for establishing and modifying guidelines for the prelim exam, and for hearing and deciding on appeals.