Doctor of Philosophy Program Guide: General Examination (Orals)

Timeline and Satisfactory Progress:

Students should complete the Ph.D. exams in of the fourth year of graduate study (third year for those entering with a master’s degree) but must complete the Ph.D. exams by the end of the fourth year (third year for those entering with a master’s degree) in order to be making satisfactory progress.
Examinations are not administered during the summer.

What it is and who goes

  • The General Examination is a two-hour oral examination, conducted by the Ph.D. Exam Committee.
  • The General Examination is a formal requirement of the Graduate School and attended by at least four members of the Ph.D. Exam Committee, including the Chair, at least two regular members, and the GSR.
  • The oral General Examination is allowed to take place only if the written examinations have been passed.
  • The oral General Examination is a comprehensive examination intended to extend and engage the breadth of the student’s exam lists, intellectual training and background, including issues of pedagogy. It might also be used productively to help the student think about the next step, which is coming up with a dissertation topic and prospectus.

How It Is Conducted

  • The Committee Chair picks up the examination warrant from the English Graduate Office prior to the exam.
  • Chair officiates.
  • Students may bring one note card but no other written materials.
  • At the beginning of the examination, the student is asked to step out of the room while the Committee discusses logistics, how to conduct the exam and their approach to questioning.
  • Students may be asked for clarification or amplification of issues raised in the written exams, questions about other works on the reading lists, or questions about dissertation and further research plans.
  • At the conclusion of the exam, the student is asked to step out of the room while the committee discusses the student’s performance. Upon arrival at a decision, the committee chair invites the student back into the room to inform the student of the committee’s decision.
  • The Chair marks the decision and secures signatures from all committee members on the General Examination warrant.
  • The signed warrant must be returned immediately to the English Graduate Advisor for conveyance of the examination results to the Graduate School through MyGradProgram.


  • Pass. The student is recommended for continuance in the Ph.D. program, and encouraged to proceed with the doctoral dissertation.
  • Re-examine after a further period of study. The oral General Examination may be retaken once. A second failure results in termination from the program.
  • Fail. The candidate is not recommended for further work towards the doctoral degree. The effect of this recommendation is termination of the student’s enrollment in the doctoral program at the conclusion of the current quarter.