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Department of English
PhD in Rhetoric, Writing, and Professional Communication

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Candidacy Examinations

The Candidacy Examination structure is currently under review given the revised program. We hope to have information about the new exam structure by mid-October 2013. Please contact the Director of Graduate Studies ( for more information. 


The three Candidacy Examinations described below provide a comprehensive review of your coursework and your preparation to embark upon your dissertation. 

Connective Exam (4 hours)

Special Topics Exam (4 hours)

Dissertation Topic Exam (one-week take home exam)

These Candidacy Examinations are to be completed as soon after you have completed your coursework as possible. These exams allow you to demonstrate that you can draw connections among the different scholarly areas represented in the degree program, that you can develop and defend a sophisticated position on important questions in your areas of study and research, and that you have acquired knowledge of a special topic area. You must successfully complete all three of your Candidacy Examinations before you may submit a formal dissertation prospectus to your Dissertation Committee. The format of your Candidacy Examinations will be determined through discussions with your committee, but should follow the general guidelines provided here.  

Examination Structure 

Your examinations will consist of a 4-hour connective exam, a 4-hour special topic examination, and a one-week take home dissertation project exam as elaborated below. The subject areas and reading lists for these exams will be determined through discussion with your committee, but will follow the general guidelines provided here. Note that the suggested time allotments are intended to give you time to plan, write, and revise your answers. For all three exams, your committees will write the examination prompts/questions and evaluate your responses. If, for the connective exam, you select a Dissertation Committee that does not represent all of the three major emphases in the degree, your chair will ask faculty from the appropriate area(s) to participate both in writing questions for the connective exam and evaluating your answers to those questions (see “Candidacy Exams” below). Likewise, if your committee does not include faculty in the area you select to pursue for your special topic exam (see below), your chair will ask faculty with expertise in that area to be a part of the examination process. See Candidacy Exam Reporting forms in Appendices of PhD handbook.

1) Connective Exam (4-hour) 

This exam provides you with an opportunity to identify and elaborate connections among the three major emphases that make up the PhD in Technical and Professional Discourse in terms of your areas of study and, particularly, research. For this exam, you will select 6 works from each of the program area reading lists named below (for a total of 18 works) and, in response to one of two prompts provided by your committee, use these sources to identify and explain connections among the three major emphases of the program as related to your areas of study and research. Submit your reading list to your chair and committee. See Appendices for Reading Lists for each area: Discourses and Cultures, Writing Studies and Pedagogy, and Technical and Professional Communication. 

2) Special Topic Exam (4-hour) 

For this exam, you will work in consultation with your committee to develop a reading list of approximately 20 works relating to a secondary area of interest (special topic) that will not play a prominent role in the dissertation (and thus will not be covered extensively in the dissertation project exam). The goal of this exam is to showcase the breadth of your interests—a secondary specialty can often be very useful when applying for jobs. Knowledge about this special topic area can be gained from doctoral and other courses, as well as from guided self-study and reading. Be sure to submit the final version of your reading list to your committee. Your committee will collaborate to compose three questions, two of which you will choose to respond to, in detail, drawing from sources on your reading list.  

3) Dissertation Project Exam (one-week take home exam) 

For this exam, you will work in consultation with your committee to develop a reading list of 20-30 works (books and articles) that will provide a solid foundation for the dissertation. Be sure to submit the final version of your reading list to your committee. With this exam, you demonstrate that you have the initial preparation to complete your proposed dissertation.Your committee will collaborate to compose 3 questions, 2 of which you will choose to respond to, in detail, drawing from sources on your reading list and will evaluate your responses.

Important Note Regarding Examination Questions

Your committee will compose a number of possible questions for your dissertation project exam and your special topic exam, and the Doctoral Program Steering Committee (DPSC) must approve those questions prior to your examinations. As you plan for your candidacy examinations, be sure to allow sufficient time for your committee to develop questions and to secure the approval of the DPSC. 

Examination Scheduling

Examinations will be administered after completion of coursework at a time approved by your committee in consultation with you.
Specific dates and times will be determined by you and your dissertation committee chair in consultation with your dissertation committee members. All persons involved must approve the date/time set. You are to complete your candidacy examinations as soon after you complete your coursework as possible. However, you cannot take candidacy exams until grades for all coursework have been posted and all incompletes have been removed. One exception--If supported by your chair and committee members and approved by the Director of Graduate Studies, you can complete your special topic candidacy examination with one course remaining if that course is not one of the 5 required courses.

All candidacy exams must be completed within one calendar year of when you complete your first exam.

You can complete the 3 exams in any order. Consult with your chair and committee members.

After determining a date and time, you will ask the Graduate Administrative Assistant to schedule a room. A room, with a desktop or laptop computer, will be provided for you to complete your exams.

Other Examination Regulations

You need to be aware of these additional regulations.

· Your exam will be administered by the chair of your committee or a designated department referee. · You will not be permitted to use books or notes although you may bring items such as blank paper, pencils, or cough drops—items to be checked by the Director of Graduate Studies before the exam. 

· You will write your exam under an honors system although your chair should be available if questions arise. 

· You will write your exam using a computer provided by the department. 

· You will email your exam to your chair, Graduate Administrative Assistant, Director of Graduate Studies, and, if you wish to do so, yourself. Your chair will then email the exam to committee members.

Results of the Candidacy Examinations
Within two to three weeks after you have completed all examinations, you will meet with your committee. At that time, the committee will inform you of your performance on the examination(s) and, if there are any difficulties, suggest a course of action. While those actions may take many forms, they must not violate the department’s position on re-taking examinations: 

· Failure on all three examinations will result in dismissal from the program. 

· Anyone failing one or two examinations may re-take those examinations only once. The exams must be retaken during one of the next two examination administration periods. That is, if you fail during the early fall exam period, you re-take the exam during the following early spring or late spring semester exam period: exams failed during the early spring exam period are retaken during late spring or early fall exam period and exams failed during the late spring exam period are retaken during early fall or early spring exam period. If you pass your candidacy examination(s), you and your committee may use this meeting as a time to discuss the committee’s “pass” assessment of an exam or exams and as a venue for discussing your plans for completing future exam(s) and/or dissertation research.