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Preliminary Examination

Exam Application Form   • Preliminary Exam Timeline

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 overall purpose of the preliminary examination is to evaluate the student's knowledge of the 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 and the proposed plan of study.

Preliminary Exam components


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 three weeks prior to the scheduled written portion of the exam.

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.

Oral Examination Elements

Oral Examination Guidelines


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, s/he 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 consultation with his/her graduate committee.

The student must notify the department office 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 final examination. It is the candidate's responsibility to comply with these notifications.

Complete the preliminary notification

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.

Exam Application Form

This form allows you to electronically request and schedule your preliminary exam. You must complete this form at least three weeks before your requested oral exam date. Once submitted, your adviser, committee members, department graduate committee members and Graduate Adviser Sarah Tisdale will receive an email notification of your request. You may receive correspondence from them shortly after your submission.

Student Information

Scheduling Information

Faculty Adviser

Committee Members

Preliminary Exam Timeline

Up to 3 months prior to prelim date 1) Notify graduate committee members and arrange acceptable date for prelim, reserve a room
2) Submit GS6 Program of Study form through RAMweb
Electronically sign GS6 Ensure department head electronically signs GS6
As soon as the prelim date is confirmed (at least 3 weeks prior to exam) Fill out the Prelim Notification Form
When notification email is recieved Contact committee members to arrange question prep, confirm date of written exam Prepare potential questions and submit to adviser before written exam date
More than 2 weeks prior to written exam date Contact student about date of written exam
At least 2 weeks prior to written exam Submit written prospectus to adviser, committee members
1 day prior to written exam Submit questions to graduate adviser
Date of written exam (aprox. 10 days prior to prelim) Receive questions via email between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday from department office (usually graduate adviser) Send questions to student at agreed time
48 hours after written exam Submit answers to dept. office 48 hours after receiving questions Send copies of exam questions to adviser and committee members
Week before prelim exam Initiate GS16 Preliminary Exam Results form in RAMweb
Date of prelim exam Relax! Pick up student's file from dept. office Decide on results and recommendation Approve GS16 form so it moves to committee
Immediately after the end of the exam Electronically sign GS16 within 48 business hours Electronically sign GS16 within 48 business hours Ensure department head electronically signs GS16 within 48 business hours
Within a week of exam Send memo (email or hard copy) summarizing exam results and any recommendations for remedial work to dept. office Send grad student change form from Ph.D. I to Ph.D. II to adviser for approval