PhD Preliminary Exams

All PhD students must complete both a written and oral preliminary examination prior to admission to candidacy. Successful completion of the preliminary examinations signifies that the student is officially a candidate for the PhD degree. This page provides a summary of the process. For complete information please see Section 3.5 Comprehensive Examinations in the Graduate Handbook.

These exams should be scheduled no later than the fourth year or after completing 48 hours towards the degree per Graduate School requirements. In practice, soil science PhD students typically finish the PhD in three years and the preliminary exams typically occur after completing the second year.

The student, in consultation with the Advisory Committee, decides when the preliminary exams will take place. The written exam is scheduled before the oral exam. When a set of dates for the written exams is established, the Director of Graduate Programs and the Graduate Services Coordinator must be notified. The student is responsible for ensuring that the members of the committee, including the Graduate School Representative, are notified and able to participate.

The Written Preliminary Exam

The committee decides on the specific format of this exam, and each member of the advisory committee prepares a set of questions for the student’s response, and the answers to each set are returned to the appropriate faculty member for evaluation. If the committee agrees that the student satisfactorily completed the exam, the student, the Director of Graduate Programs, and the Graduate Services Coordinator are notified.

If the student does not satisfactorily pass the written exams, the students advisor will consult with the Advisory Committee on the next steps. If there is unanimous consent, the student may retake part or all of the exams to demonstrate proficiency. If there is no consent, the student will be terminated from the degree program.

The Oral Preliminary Exam

The oral examination is designed to test the student’s ability to apply prior knowledge to address issues and problems and to demonstrate that they have a comprehensive understanding of soil science, their specialization and related areas. It is not enough to know the facts; the student must be able to demonstrate the ability to analyze and evaluate data, and to create new knowledge.

After successful completion of the written examination, the Graduate Office will submit the Request to Schedule the Doctoral Oral Examination form at least 10 working days prior to the schedule date with the Graduate School.

Oral preliminary examination format is decided upon by the Advisor and Committee. However, the typical format consists of the following:

  • An oral presentation of the research project, including a summary of completed work and work to be completed.
  • Questioning of the candidate by members of the Advisory Committee and other graduate faculty members who may be present.
  • Deliberation by the committee regarding the candidate’s performance resulting in a decision on whether the student passed the exam.

Preliminary Exam Outcomes

Passing the preliminary exams

The committee must provide a unanimous vote of approval for passing the preliminary exams. If the approval is unconditional, then the student officially admitted to candidacy for the degree. The Advisor will inform the DGP that the student passed unconditionally and will also complete a program evaluation of the exam.

If the committee unanimously recommends a conditional approval, then the student will received a written communication outlining additional requirements. These requirements are to be submitted to the Director of Graduate Programs and the Graduate School.

Failure to pass the preliminary exams

If the student fails the preliminary examination they are terminated from graduate work at NC State unless the Advisory Committee unanimously requests a second examination. The second exam may be written, oral, or both. The request for a second exam may be denied by the Director of Graduate Programs or the Dean of the Graduate School, in which case the student will be terminated.