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Exam Process

PhD Preliminary Exam Process

Written Portion of the Exam

PhD students submit a research paper they have prepared since enrolling in the HCDE doctoral program and a one-page, self-reflective analysis of that work. Students should papers and reflections to the PhD Program Director and Director of Academic Services in Autumn quarter. Reviewers may read the paper and analysis before or after the presentation, so, for purposes of the presentation, students should not assume that all audience members will have read the paper.

Oral Presentation

The oral part of the Preliminary Exam will include a public presentation (16-minutes in length) of the research work in the submitted paper and a discussion of the paper during a question-and-answer session with audience members (9-minutes in length). The oral presentation part of the Preliminary Exam is open to the public.

Reviews and Adviser/Mentor Context

At least two faculty who did not collaborate on the research will be assigned as reviewers. Reviews shall be conducted according to the criteria for evaluation and shall individually recommend one of the three outcomes (pass, master’s pass, fail). Reviews recommending a master’s pass or fail should indicate what would be required to pass. 

As part of the review, the student’s advisor (if named) or other HCDE faculty engaged in the research are encouraged to submit up to a one page contextual statement about the student’s contributions to the research and providing context on the research, presentation, and paper relative to the criteria for evaluating the prelims.

Any other HCDE faculty member with endorsement to chair may also submit written feedback (situated according to the evaluation criteria) as feedback to the student and/or confidential feedback to the committee. 

In the event that reviewers do not all agree on a pass outcome, the GPC shall convene a conversation among reviewers to recommend an outcome and any requirements for revision. If reviewers cannot reach consensus, the GPC will refer the matter to the PhD program committee.  

The PhD program committee may also solicit peer evaluations. These are meant as feedback for the student and will not be used as part of the formal review process.


Students will be informed of exam results within four weeks (not inclusive of academic breaks and holidays). Students who do not pass the Preliminary Exam for PhD study may submit revisions as agreed upon by reviewers, mentors, and the PhD program committee or take the exam one more time, within six months of failing the first exam. If the student does not complete passing revisions or successfully retake the exam within six months, they may proceed to finish with a terminal Master's degree.

The criteria for evaluation for the Preliminary Exam are based on the research, the paper/analysis, and the presentation.


The department will organize prelims twice per year: autumn quarter and spring quarter, and may organize prelims on multiple dates in each of these quarters. 

Students should pass their prelims by the end of autumn quarter of their second year in the program or the end of their fourth quarter of enrollment in the HCDE PhD program (whichever is later). By mutual agreement, students, faculty mentors (at least one HCDE faculty member with endorsement to chair), the GPC (or their designate), and GPA may extend this deadline to spring quarter of the student’s second year or sixth quarter in the HCDE PhD program (whichever is later).

For any student who has not earned a pass on the preliminary exam by this deadline (i.e., those who have earned a master's pass, failed the exam, or not taken the exam), the GPC and GPA shall initiate a review process. This review will include the student’s adviser(s) (if named), student’s first-year faculty mentors, and members of the PhD program committee. The student may request additional HCDE faculty, with endorsement to chair, be included in this process, e.g., if they have begun working with additional mentors since rotations. Outcomes of this review may include: 

Remaining in good standing and extending the deadline, e.g., if the student and faculty mentors agree that a longer timeline is appropriate for the student and/or scholarship 

  • Warn: e.g., if there is a mentorship plan in place and a plan for the prelims (or revisions), but concern about the timeline
  • Probation, e.g., if there is a mentorship plan in place but not a clear plan for the prelims (or revisions), or vice versa
  • Final probation or drop, e.g., if there is no mentorship plan in place and no credible plan for prelims (or revisions)

Unless the recommendation is good standing and a deadline extension, the student shall be reviewed quarterly until they return to good standing or exit the program.

Any student who has not earned a pass (not a master’s pass) by the end of spring quarter of their second year in the program, or their sixth quarter in the program (whichever is later), will be dropped from the program unless the student, their HCDE faculty mentor(s), and the GPC or their designate has determined that a longer timeline is appropriate for the student and/or scholarship. 

For more information about these statuses, please see the HCDE PhD Student Continuation Policy and UW Graduate School Policy 3.7 on Academic Performance and Progress. Please be aware that probation and final probation status have implications for the HCDE funding guarantee. 

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