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1/26/2016 Doctoral Qualifying Exam (AKA 18-Hour Exam) Forum Minutes

February 3, 2016

The forum was held to give bewildered new PhD students the benefit of the experience of students who took the above-named exam last fall (the first time it was given).


DISCLAIMER: These notes in no way represent official policy, requirements, standards, or advice. (As yet there is no official policy, etc.)


The Process


The following information is published on the UTD A&H site at (please check the site for updates):




Effective Fall 2015 we are instituting a qualifying examination early in doctoral study as a way of ensuring timely progress toward the doctoral degree. Students take the qualifying examination in the middle of the semester in which they will complete their first 18 hours of doctoral coursework applicable to the degree plan.

The examination is composed of two parts:

PART I: Compile an annotated bibliography of ten to twenty items on a topic from the list supplied by the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies. Your bibliography must be substantially free of typographical and mechanical errors and should follow the guidelines set by a major bibliographic research guide; your bibliography must identify the guide used.

PART II: In a short essay, explain two concepts separately (1250 words each, not including bibliography) from the list supplied by the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies. Your essay should be substantially free of grammatical and mechanical errors, and any citations should follow the guidelines set by a major research guide, which should be identified at the end of your essay.

Students will have three business days to complete both parts of the exam and return it to the Graduate Coordinator. Student may begin the examination at 10:00 am on Monday or Tuesday only. All examinations will be submitted to

Completed exams will be evaluated independently on a pass/fail basis by two faculty members. In the event that the evaluations do not concur, the exam will go to a third faculty member for a decision. Students will receive the final evaluation within one week of taking the exam. At the discretion of the evaluators, student may be permitted to take all or part of the examination a second time within the semester. A third attempt is not allowed.


In the experience of the first exam takers, this description is mostly true. Because the exam was given late in the semester, those who failed were not able to retake it in the same semester. And although the information above says that students will get their results “within one week of taking the exam,” the students who took it in the fall were told to expect results in “4-6 weeks.” Note that you are not officially a PhD student until you pass this exam.


What You Get


The email Alice sent out last semester to students taking the exam reproduces the instructions given in Part I and Part II of the explanation from the website. You must respond to the email to confirm that you have received it. The email also includes the time and date the exam documents are due; for example:


No later than Thursday at 10:00 a.m. please send an attached Microsoft word document to me. I will confirm receipt. You will be notified of the results of your examination by email and also mailed a memo. Please use only your UTD email account. If you have any questions, please email or contact me at 972-883-2756.


Attached to the email are two lists of concepts you may write on. Part I contains concepts for the bibliography; Part II contains concepts for the essays. The following lists were used in the fall 2015 exam. (Note that Part II describes the essay as a single 2500-word essay on two concepts. We expect that the instructions will be updated to reflect the current explanation on the web site: two 1250-word essays on two concepts. Also, Part II instructs you to “identify the questions answered.” There are no “questions” as such. We understand this to mean that you must identify the concepts you are writing about in the essay titles and/or the introductory paragraphs.)


Part I: Compile an annotated bibliography of ten to twenty items on one topic from the list below. Your bibliography should be substantially free of typographical and mechanical errors and should follow the guidelines set by a major bibliographic research guide. Please identify the topic answered and additionally identify the research guide used at the end of your essay. The A&H office will submit your completed exam into





  • HUHI:
  • HUSL:


Part II: In a short essay (2500 words minimum), explain any two concepts from the list below. Concepts can be combined from two different areas. Your essay should be substantially free of grammatical and mechanical errors, and any citations should follow the guidelines set by a major research guide. Please identify the questions answered and additionally identify the research guide used at the end of your essay. The A&H office will submit your completed exam into


  • HUAS:
  • HUHI:
  • HUSL:
  •  IRONY


Each time the exam is given, two professors from each discipline (HUAS, HUHI, and HUSL) are asked to contribute “concepts” to the list and to grade some of the exams (though not necessarily exams that address the concepts they chose). In each discipline, the graders are chosen in alphabetical order by last name, which may be helpful if you know where the selection order stands when you are ready to take the exam. As the concept list demonstrates, the professors were given no guidance as to the scope of a “concept”; most are very broad, a few are very specific.




(Because much of the information that was shared in the forum consisted of questions and answers, we’re going to stick to that format.)


Q: Who can I ask if I have questions about the exam instructions or concepts?

A: The exam email will come from Alice with a copy to Dr. Gooch, and you can email her back as many times as necessary for clarification about the process, format, etc. Keep all your correspondence, of course.


Q: Does everyone get the same list of concepts in the exam email?

A: Yes.


Q: Can we ask the professor who provided a particular concept what she/he is expecting? Or Dr. Gooch?

A: No. You will not know who provided the concept, and that professor will not know whose exam she/he is grading. Dr. Gooch is not involved in the grading.


Q: So we don’t get a specific question or prompt to write to, just a “concept”?

A: That is correct.


Q: Did anyone fail?

A: Yes. Nine students took the exam last fall, and we have heard that either 4 or 5 failed at least one part of the exam. (Note: A student who passed and a student who failed one section both attended the forum to share their experiences.)


Q: Why?

A: Most people seemed to have passed the annotated bibliography section, though at least one student was failed by at least one grader for using non-academic sources. The reasons for failing the essay portion included incoherent writing, getting an historical event wrong, faulty or overly broad claims, and citing oneself as a source.

Recommendations: Use academic sources—stick to peer-reviewed journals and books published by university presses or by major publishers of academic books (for example, Palgrave or Routledge) if you are unsure what this means.


Q: Does the administration have any plans to publish standards or requirements for passing this exam?

A: Unknown. It is possible that they may develop some in the future, but any proposed standards would have to go first to the GSC and then be voted on by the faculty before being implemented.


Q: How long should each annotation be?

A: Our best guess is at least 100 words. There are many guidelines online and in research format guides for creating an annotated bibliography. Generally, you should identify the author’s argument and evidence, the scope of the work, its audience, relevancy, and approach. You can also include a brief quotation from the work if it is particularly apt.


Q: How can I read 10 books in one day? Or should I stick to articles?

Recommendation: One student who took the exam used only books. If you use books, read the introduction and maybe the first and last pages of each chapter, and the conclusion if there is one. You can also look for book reviews, but be very careful not to plagiarize them. Scholarly articles are fine, too. Those with abstracts will help you get the gist more quickly.


Q: What format should I use?

A: Use the format you are most familiar with (for example, Turabian, Chicago, or MLA), and be sure to note the format that you used in one line at the end of your bibliography and your essay.


Q: So the essay portion is actually two 1250-word essays on two different concepts, but stuck together in one paper?

A: Yes. A student who passed used a centered row of asterisks (* * *) to separate the two essays and combined the bibliographies for the two essays into one. If the instructions this time allow you to submit two different files (one per essay), provide the relevant bibliography with each (obviously).


Q: How many bibliographic sources do I need for the essays?

A: An average of one source per page was accepted in the first exam.


Q: What if I don’t know anything about any of the concepts?

A: You won’t be alone. Think in terms of shortcuts: use Google and Wikipedia to get information, but don’t quote them. Other recommendations were to use reference works like The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy for overviews of particular concepts.


Q: Do I have to work up an argument for each essay?

A: Not unless you have the necessary expertise in the concept. A student who passed suggested that you approach the essay as though you were teaching it to a class of undergrads. It’s impossible to know what individual graders are looking for, but if you are able to coherently express a broad understanding of the concept, write clear thesis statements, and use logical transitions between paragraphs, you should be fine.


Q: What should I use for a header on my papers?

A: Put your name, Spring 2016 Qualifying Exam, and the date in your header (unless you get instructions to do otherwise).



Other Recommendations


  • Manage your time! Plan to devote one entire day to each of the three parts.
  • Clear the week (or at least the days) of the exam. Skip your own classes. Get a sub if you are a TA. If you have work due in a class, ask for an extension.
  • Start with the part you think will be the easiest (for most students, the annotated bibliography).
  • A student who passed recommended alternating work on the two essays over two days to ensure that both are of about the same quality.
  • Use block quotations in your essays. In fact, one student’s strategy was to identify the most relevant block quotes from each source first and structure the essay around them. (Be strategic—it shouldn’t be obvious that you are using the quotes just to pad the word count.)
  • If your experience during the exam is different from what we have described here, or if you think of additional helpful tips, please email the GSA. Talk to each other! Shared information is incredibly helpful in navigating the UTD graduate program.

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