A graduate with a Ph.D. is expected to be able to conduct a program of his/her own research, as well as to be able to teach and supervise others who are formulating research. The A exam is intended to insure that the Ph.D. student is making appropriate progress toward those goals. Thus the exam has both a backward-looking and a forward-looking purpose, assessing mastery of material already covered and preparation for conducting independent dissertation research. Upon passing the A exam the student is admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D.
Timing of the A Exam
Normally, the A exam is taken in the third year of the Ph.D. program. By Graduate School rules, the A exam may not be taken before two semesters of registration as a doctoral student (i.e., beyond the Master’s), but it must be taken before the student begins the seventh semester of registration. The A exam may not be scheduled if there are any outstanding incompletes or missing grades.
Content of the A Exam
The A exam is a comprehensive breadth and depth review of the theoretical and methodological material the student has studied over the last few years. Normally, the exam will test at least the following: knowledge of theory development and methodology, including epistemology of social science; knowledge of a broad range of communication theory relevant to the student’s work; depth knowledge of the theory, research and methods in the student’s area of specialization.
The student’s Special Committee will determine the specific content of the A exam. The Field recommends that the student meet with the full committee to agree on the scope of the exam questions and the procedures to be followed. The Chair of the Committee will coordinate this process to ensure that questions achieve the goals set for the A exam. This coordination may include defining areas of inquiry and recommending reading lists.
Procedures for the A Exam
The A exam consists of a written examination and an open oral examination by the Special Committee. Generally, students should set the approximate date of the oral exam (which comes after the written exam) approximately three to six months in advance. The student must formally notify the Graduate School seven calendar days in advance of the oral part of the A exam via the Schedule of Exam form and must follow all other Graduate School rules regarding A exams. The preference is to use the online form and it is recommended that you start that process a week before your A exam scheduling form is due to ensure there is time for the signatures to be collected. To track signatures, you will receive emails when someone signs off on your form and you can log into Dynamic Forms to see the progress.
Members of the Special Committee may give closed or open book questions and may set other rules for the nature of materials and equipment the student may use in the examination. Normally, students may refer to the literature and other written material as well as the student’s own notes, but the student must not receive any other form of outside help that would compromise the assumption that the A exam is the student’s own work.
The written part of the exam will usually consist of a question or set of questions from each Special Committee member. Typically, the Committee will set a definite deadline for the A exam. Then each committee member will give the student a question that requires two to four weeks of work to complete serially or parallel. Committee members may request revisions of the answers before the oral exam.
A paper suitable for submission to a journal that represents original for which the student took primary intellectual leadership may fulfill the depth of the goal of the A exam. A dissertation proposal may be part of the A exam so long as it fulfills one of the goals of the A exam.
The oral part of the A exam should be conducted no more than fifteen working days after the student submits his/her last response to the written questions. Graduate School rules require that the oral part of the A exam be open to all members of the Field.
Judging the A Exam
To pass the exam, the student must demonstrate a mastery of the material and the ability for independent thought. The members of the Special Committee will adjust their expectations for length, breadth, depth, and level of detail of the written responses based on the form of the exam given. The determination of whether the student passes or fails rests exclusively with the Special Committee, and all members of the committee must approve. If a student fails the examination, re-examination is allowed if the Special Committee grants approval. A re-examination may be given no earlier than three months after the failure. The Results of Exam form must be submitted within three days of the oral exam taking place.