Qualifying examinations

All PhD students are required to take two qualifying examinations: one oral qualifying exam based on a reading list covering literature/film and applied linguistics, and one written qualifying exam based on the student's research interests and dissertation topic.

Students must complete both comprehensive examinations by the end of their sixth term, and students are advised to begin preparation for them early in their program, ideally in their first term. The dates for the qualifying exams are set by the Graduate Officer.

Normally, the oral qualifying exam takes place in the first month of the 5th term, and the written qualifying exam is scheduled for the first month of the 6th term.

Oral qualifying examination

The oral qualifying examinations test the student’s knowledge in the areas of German literature, film, and German applied linguistics. The oral exam is based on a set reading list in applied linguistics and literature and film studies. The exam is not a comprehensive exam, and the list of readings and viewings by no means covers all of applied linguistics, German-language literature, or German-language film. Rather, the list is a guide to some of the most important works in these fields, but not all of the important works, because that is simply not possible in any list of this kind.

Students are strongly encouraged to ask their mentors for advice on how to proceed and study for the exams.


The Graduate Officer appoints a committee of four professors (normally two literature/film specialists and two applied linguistics specialists) for the Oral Qualifying Examination. S/he sets a date for the exam and informs the candidates of the committee members. The committee prepares the examination. The Graduate Officer determines a suitable time and venue.

One week before the exam candidates are given three topics. They present on one of these topics and are then asked questions. The exam is 90 minutes in duration (the presentation is limited to 15-20 minutes). The oral exam is open only to full-time faculty members of the department. The chair of the oral exam committee is the candidate’s mentor.

The oral examination is structured as follows: Candidates receive three questions one week prior to the examination and choose one question as their topic for a short presentation. Candidates are required to notify the committee chair (normally their mentor) within 48 hours after receiving the three questions about their choice for the presentation. The presentation by the candidate is followed by a 15-minute question period by all committee members on the presentation. In the second part of the exam the candidate is given questions about other topics, based on the reading list (about 45 minutes of questions) by all examiners.

Students are graded on a pass/fail basis; if they fail, they may repeat the exam once. If they fail again, they will be asked to withdraw. The examiners determine the outcome (pass/fail) immediately after the examination. The chair of the examination committee (normally the student’s mentor) informs the Graduate Officer about the outcome in writing. This memorandum will be kept in the student’s file. The student is informed about the result by her/his mentor, immediately after the committee decision has been made.

Preparing for the oral qualifying examination

Studying for such an exam can appear to be a daunting prospect at the outset. Some suggestions on how to prepare:

  • Focus on gleaning the most important information from each work – avoid getting bogged down in details. (Developing the ability to tell the difference is a useful skill.)
  • Form a study group and make presentations to each other on particular works.
  • Develop questions about the works and discuss possible answers with each other.
  • Make good use of encyclopaedias and reference works to supplement your reading and reinforce your learning.

Written qualifying examination

The written exam is intended to prepare the student to write the dissertation prospectus. It covers in broader fashion the context of a possible dissertation topic chosen by the student and the methodology/ies that could be used to explore this topic. It is a take-home exam, 72 hours in duration.


The Graduate Officer sets a date for the exam and appoints the examination committee, consisting of the student’s supervisor, mentor, and another faculty member who specializes in the student’s area of research (i.e., literature/film, applied linguistics). The student provides the graduate officer with a précis on the topic (1000-1500 words excluding bibliography) two weeks before the exam date. The examination committee sets the examination questions. The exam consists of three questions (answers: 2,000-3,000 words each excluding bibliography). The Graduate Officer sends the questions to the candidate 72 hours prior to the exam. Upon completion of the exam, the candidate sends an electronic version of her/his answers to the Graduate Officer and the Graduate Assistant (Janet Vaughan). Students are graded on a pass/fail basis; if fail, students may repeat the exam once. If fail again, students will be asked to withdraw.