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Preliminary Examination

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Introduction and General Information

A Ph.D. student must take and pass the preliminary examination, generally within 12 months of defending the M.S. (or within 18 months of admission to the Ph.D. program, if the student completed the M.S. in another department). The outcome of the exam is reported to the department and Graduate School within two working days using the GS16 form.

The preliminary examination is administered by the student's graduate committee. The purpose of the preliminary examination is to evaluate the student's knowledge of their field and their ability to independently formulate and propose a research project.

A Ph.D. student, in conjunction with their adviser, should begin forming a graduate committee as soon as possible after their admission to the Ph.D. program, normally in the first semester. The GS6 form is used to report the composition of the graduate committee (3 faculty members from ATS and one CSU faculty member from outside the department) and the proposed plan of study. Non-CSU employees are required to obtain faculty affiliate appointments in an academic department in order to be eligible to serve on graduate committees. They do not replace CSU faculty requirements.

Preliminary Exam Components

The preliminary exam consists of the following three parts:


Purpose of the Prospectus

The purpose of the prospectus is to evaluate the student's ability to independently formulate and propose a research project.

Prospectus Elements

The prospectus should be submitted to the graduate committee at least three weeks prior to the scheduled written portion of the exam, and the committee should be notified by the student regarding when to expect this document. The three week window can be shortened in response to a written request by the student, if all members of the committee agree there is sufficient time to create the written questions.

Prospectus Guidelines


Purpose of the Written Questions

The primary purpose of the written questions is to test the student's ability to use their understanding of topics pertaining to their field of research to synthesize and process complex information by critically analyzing the research literature through the use of written arguments, appropriate equations and current theory.

Written Questions


Purpose of the Oral Examination

The purpose of the oral examination is to provide an opportunity for the student's graduate committee to ask questions about the student's prospectus, their responses to the written questions, and related topics in the student's area(s) of research.

Structure of the Oral Examination

Additional Information

Grading the Exam

Each of the three portions of the exam (i.e. prospectus, written questions, and oral examination) are weighted equally and each will be graded by the graduate committee as either "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory." Outcomes of the full exam may be PASS, FAIL or PARTIAL PASS.

A PARTIAL PASS on the preliminary exam may require additional follow-up with the graduate committee, as will be documented in a department memo – but will be considered a pass according to the Graduate School (as specified in the GS16 form). Any follow-up requested by the graduate committee must occur within 6 months or less (to be specified by the graduate committee in the department memo) following the oral examination.

If a student FAILS the preliminary exam, they may be eligible for one re-examination. However, re-examination must be endorsed by the graduate committee on the GS16 form and must be completed within six months of the first attempt. Conditions to be met before re-examination are documented on the GS16 form.

A student who passes the preliminary exam will change status from Ph.D. I to Ph.D. II. The department requires a memo from the student's adviser to be notified of this change.

Notification of Exam

The student is responsible for arranging a time and place for the oral portion of the preliminary exam after consulting his/her graduate committee.

The student must notify the graduate adviser no later than three weeks prior to the exam. The date, time and place of the preliminary examination will be announced to all Atmospheric Science academic faculty members one week prior to the examination. The preliminary examination shall be administered at least two terms before the student’s PhD defense. It is the candidate's responsibility to comply with these notifications.

Extenuating Circumstances

The student is expected to make every effort to comply with departmental timelines for admission and for passing the preliminary examination. However, in some cases, there may be extenuating circumstances that require modification of these timelines or the exam format itself. In such cases, the student and adviser may petition, in writing, to the graduate committee, outlining the reasons for the request and the proposed modified timetable and/or exam format. The department head will approve or deny the request.

Violation of departmental requirements and timetables will be considered grounds for dismissal from the program.

Preliminary Exam Timeline

Up to 3 months prior to oral exam date Notify committee members and arrange acceptable date for prelim, reserve a room for oral exam
As soon as the oral exam date is confirmed (at least 3 weeks prior to oral exam) Notify graduate adviser of date, time and location Contact committee members to arrange prep of 3 questions, confirm date of written exam Prepare potential written questions and submit to department office before written exam date
More than 2 weeks prior to written exam date Fill out GS6 Program of Study form on RAMweb; discuss timing of written exam with department office Contact student about date of written exam (written prelim exam can be arranged for anytime between 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., M, T, W)
At least 3 weeks prior to written exam Submit written prospectus to PhD adviser, committee members, and department office
1 day prior to written exam Submit questions (email) to department office
Date of written exam (aprox. 10 days prior to oral exam) Receive written exam questions via email from department office Have questions ready to send via email at agreed-upon time
48 hours after written exam Submit written exam solutions to department office 48 hours after receiving Send copies of exam questions to PhD adviser and committee members; cc student
At least one week before oral exam Initiate GS16 Preliminary Exam Results form in RAMweb Prepare internal preliminary exam memo
Date of oral exam Relax! Decide on results and recommendation Sign off on GS16 form so committee members will receive system emails
Immediately after the end of the oral exam Electronically sign GS16 Prelim Exam Results form Electronically sign GS16 Prelim Exam Results form Ensure GS16 Prelim Exam Results form is signed by all committee members and department head
Within a week of oral exam Submit completed internal preliminary exam results memo to department head