Third Year/Qualifying Exams

Two Months Before Qualifying Exam

Committee & Questions

  • Consult with faculty advisor to determine committee
  • Committee requirements: all tenured/tenure-track, at least 3 from Rossier and 1 from USC outside of Rossier. You must have at least 5 committee members including your advisor, but you may have more
  • Contact program office if you have any committee questions or exceptions
  • Work with faculty advisor to develop questions
  • The exam is an original paper written by the student on a question that has been worked out with and approved by the Guidance Committee. The paper will be no less than 25 and no more than 50 pages double spaced, excluding references and footnotes. The question will have an explicit theoretical, methodological, and content focus in the student’s chosen area. Students are encouraged to make extensive use of the literature. Critical reviews of the literature or reports on empirical research are acceptable, as are papers that deal with a research project that the student has conducted. The paper must follow the APA documentation format and should be of publishable quality. Students may have colleagues read drafts of their work, but the text must be entirely their own.

    The written qualifying examination is designed to assess a student’s readiness to undertake dissertation research and to assess the student’s ability to critically analyze and synthesize theoretical and methodological knowledge.

One Month Before Exam

Forms to Submit to Program Office

  • Program of Study (found in forms section)
  • Qual committee form (found in forms section)
  • Petition if anyone needs to participate remotely (up to 2 people may, but it is preferred that all are present). Contact program office for petition


  • Schedule oral defense date and then work backwards 6 weeks from oral defense date to determine day to start writing
  • Contact program office with start date, defense date and for help reserving a room for oral defense
  • Start putting together teaching & research portfolio (see below for details)

Qualifying Exam


  • Faculty advisor and committee will finalize questions and send them to the program office before the designated start date
  • Program office will send questions at 9am on designated start date
  • Write for 30 days
  • Email completed exam to committee and program office on 31st day

After Qualifying Exam


  • Ask committee if anyone wants a hard copy of exam
  • Remind committee of oral defense time, date and location
  • Finalize Research & Teaching Portfolio and send to committee one week prior to defense for review

Oral Defense of Qualifying Exam

Day of Defense

  • Program office will bring 2 forms at the beginning of the defense (qual petition and teaching & research approval form). Forms are to be signed by committee and returned to program office immediately following the defense
  • Committee will ask student to step out of the room for 15 minutes
  • Student will then defend exam
  • Student should ask committee for feedback on research & teaching portfolio

Teaching & Research Portfolio

The Teaching & Research Portfolio should be prepared by the student, in collaboration with the advisor, prior to the start of the qualifying exam.

The teaching portfolio reflects the student’s experiences as a Teaching Assistant. The 5-10 page dossier includes course syllabi, teaching evaluations (if available), an analysis of the experience and student’s teaching philosophy.

The research portfolio reflects the student’s development and productivity in the area of writing from the point of entry into the Ph.D. program. The student’s CV and examples of articles that students have submitted or published, and/or research projects that have been completed will be provided to the Committee at the qualifying exam defense meeting.