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Process for Written Preliminary Exams

photo by Scott Bauer, courtesy of USDA-ARSWritten preliminary exams for Ph.D. graduate students will be given approximately April 15-16 and October 15-16. A Ph.D. student must take the written preliminary exam by the offering following the semester that 2/3 of Ph.D. didactic course credits (excluding Master's degree credits) are completed. Exceptions to this timeline will be considered by the Graduate Studies Committee when provided with written justification signed by the student and student’s advisor.

The following describes the written preliminary exam process:

  • After the written preliminary exam has been scheduled for the identified students, the Graduate Studies Committee will meet to identify and discuss the bodies of knowledge on each student’s plan of study. If the student earned a M.S. degree in PLSC at NDSU, both the M.S. and Ph.D. plans of study will be explored by the committee. The committee chair or designee will then work with the PLSC Graduate Student Secretary to send a call for questions to the graduate faculty within the Department of Plant Sciences. The Faculty Guidelines for the written preliminary exam will also be included with the call for questions. The call for questions should be sent no later than three weeks prior to the scheduled exam date with a due date about one week prior to the exam date.
  • If a graduate studies committee member is the advisor for a student identified to complete the written preliminary exam, that member will excuse herself/himself from committee deliberations regarding that student.
  • The Graduate Studies Committee will convene soon after the question due date for the purpose of selecting ten questions that will make up the exam for each identified student. The authors of the questions will not be included with the question in the selection process. Although the question’s author will be anonymous, questions will be grouped by author so the number of questions selected from a single author can be limited. The selected questions will be based on bodies of knowledge identified from the student’s plan of study (completed courses). Five of the ten questions will be identified for the first day of the exam, and five for the second. The PLSC Graduate Student Secretary will add the name(s) of the faculty member(s) who submitted the question on the developed exam, so the student knows to whom they should direct questions, if clarification is necessary.
  • Following the exam, the PLSC Graduate Student Secretary will provide the question and the student’s answer to the writer of the question for grading. The Pass/Fail grade (as well as detailed comments for the student) will be returned to the PLSC Graduate Student Secretary within one week.
  • Once the answers have been collected, the Graduate Studies Committee will convene to determine the recommendation. Prior to determining the recommendation, the Graduate Studies Committee will examine failed questions, not to second guess the grader of the question, but to ensure that it is not a rare instance of unfair grading. If no more than two questions have been failed, the student passed the exam. If three or more questions have received a failing grade, the student failed the exam.
  • Students will be notified of the final recommendation by letter from the Department Chair. Following the successful completion of the written exam, students will be asked to meet with their advisor regarding scheduling the oral preliminary exam. Students who have failed the written preliminary exam may take a second exam. Normally, the second exam will be taken at the next scheduled offering (April or October). However, in cases of extenuating circumstances, the Graduate Studies Committee may schedule the exam at an earlier date.
  • When students are notified of the recommendation by the Graduate Studies Committee, the student will also be provided with the completed exam including comments by all graders. Students are required to visit with faculty member(s) whose question(s) was failed, and are encouraged to visit with faculty members whose question/comments stimulated further questions.
  • If the student failed 3 or more of the 10 questions on the first exam, the second exam will be developed, conducted, and assessed as described for the first exam. Students who fail the second exam will be notified by letter from the Department Chair, who will convene a meeting to explain options.
  • When the student has passed the written preliminary exam and has been asked to proceed and schedule the oral preliminary exam, a copy of the exam, answers, and grader’s comments will be made available to the supervisory committee members. These materials are provided to the supervisory committee, upon request, to help them better understand the current strengths and weaknesses of the student in order to help them prepare for the oral exam.
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