The Qualifying Exam is, first and foremost, an opportunity to present the dissertation prospectus before a committee of five faculty members in order to receive feedback and direction prior to embarking on the dissertation. Most students find this collective discussion to be an extremely helpful moment in their graduate careers. In addition to ensuring that the student is ready to undertake intensive dissertation research, successful passage of the Qualifying Exam implies that the student is also prepared to teach in the field of French and Francophone Studies.
It is the responsibility of the student, working with the dissertation director, to assemble the committee for the Qualifying Exam. This committee normally consists of the director, three other faculty members from the department, and one external member, chosen from another department or discipline. You should begin assembling your committee well in advance of the exam, prior to the completion of coursework.
In one sense, all of your graduate study is meant to serve as preparation for the Qualifying Exam. More specifically, you should dedicate yourself exclusively to exam preparation after you have finished at least 54 units of coursework. Normally at this time students enroll in GRSC 800 (Studies for the Qualifying Examination). There is no standard length of time for preparing the exam, but you should aim to take the exam as soon as possible after completion of coursework, and no later than the end of the fourth year. You should meet with your advisor as you are finishing up coursework in order to discuss the formation of your committee as well as directions for your research.
You will have two goals in preparing yourself to take the Qualifying Exam. On the one hand you will need to gain broad knowledge of the texts on the comprehensive and theme-year reading lists. (Students are encouraged to discuss the comprehensive list with the Director of Graduate Studies well in advance of the exam date. Substitutions are often permitted, and even encouraged, depending on your scholarly focus.) On the other, you will write the dissertation prospectus and prepare a preliminary bibliography of key primary and secondary texts. The prospectus is meant to introduce the topic of your dissertation, but, more importantly, it should present the critical framework for your engagement with your topic. Moreover, the prospectus should take the reader through your argument, outline the key texts with which youwill be working, and suggest the nature of your approach to the secondary literature on your topic. Some students are able to outline the precise chapter divisions of the dissertation at this point. Others are not yet able to articulate the structure of the thesis, and here feedback from the exam committee can be particularly useful. Typically the prospectus is at least 25 pages in length. You should be working on writing the prospectus concurrently with your preparation of the reading lists.
The Graduate School requires submission of the petition to take the Qualifying Exam at least 30 days prior to the exam itself. Once you have a rough idea of when you will be ready to take the exam, the departmental administrator will contact all of the faculty on your committee and schedule a time and place for the exam. Keep in mind that it is necessary to begin scheduling the exam well in advance of the 30-day limit; leave even more time for scheduling if you plan to take the exam at the beginning or end of the semester.
The Qualifying Exam has three parts: 1) the submission of a syllabus for an imaginary undergraduate French course 2) a two-part written exam based on the reading lists, to be taken over the course of two days and 3) an oral defense of the prospectus. The syllabus should be submitted to the committee on the first day of the written exam. The oral defense will take place once the student has completed parts one and two of the exam, no longer than 60 days after the successful passage of the written exam. Your advisor must approve a draft version of your prospectus before you will be allowed to sit for your written exam. You should be working on the prospectus at the same time as you prepare for your written exam and write up your syllabus; once you pass the written exam, you will have the chance to prepare a final draft of your prospectus, for distribution to all members of your committee prior to your oral defense.
1) At the time of the written exam, candidates will first be required to submit a syllabus for an imaginary undergraduate French survey course to be taught in a North American university context. The syllabus will draw directly from texts from the reading lists and, potentially, the bibliography of the prospectus. It should both articulate clear goals for the class and provide detailed information on the rationale behind the choice of texts. You should include in your syllabus a list of assigned texts and any supplementary materials, a schedule for the completion of readings, a detailed course description at least two paragraphs in length, and an explanation of the way in which students will be evaluated (exams, papers, presentations, etc.). There are many resources available on campus for helping you in the creation of a syllabus, including the Center for Excellence in Teaching. The theme and objectives of this imaginary course are up to you, but they should be realistic and pertinent: in other words, you should be able to use this syllabus as a basis for devising a real course, later in your career. You will turn in your syllabus to your committee members on the day that you begin your written exam, so that your committee members can evaluate the first two parts of the exam together.
2) The second part of your Qualifying Exam consists of a written exam, to be completed in tandem with the submission of the syllabus. The written exam will take place over two days and will consist of a series of written questions, devised by members of your committee and focused on the texts from the reading lists. After you receive your questions from the departmental administrator, you will be allotted four hours each day during which to write out your responses.
The written exam is meant to test your knowledge of the texts on the comprehensive and theme-year reading lists. Overall, the questions will be broad in nature, and will ask you to reflect on how you would engage the texts in question in a pedagogical context. You should be able to demonstrate an analytical grasp of the texts on the comprehensive and theme-year reading lists, but, as you study, you should focus on methods for communicating your understanding of these materials to your students.
Once you have completed the written exam, your responses will be submitted to your committee along with your syllabus and you wil be informed of the results. Successful passage of the written exam is required in order for the student to proceed to the oral defense of the prospectus. Your oral defense must take place no later than 60 days after the successful passage of the written exam.
3) In order to prepare for the oral portion of the Qualifying Exam, you should have your prospectus and bibliography prepared well in advance of the defense. You must submit a draft version of your prospectus to your advisor for approval prior to taking the written exam. Once you have passed the written exam, you can begin final revisions on your prospectus draft and bibliography. You should then submit a final copy of your prospectus to your entire committee at least two weeks prior to the oral defense.
Once you have successfully passed the Qualifying Exam, you will be admitted to candidacy. You will then choose a dissertation committee that consists of three members: the director, the external member, and one other faculty member. Some students are prepared to make this choice immediately after completion of the exam. Others wait until a later date. Of course, you are very much encouraged to continue speaking with other faculty as you go through the writing process.
As you begin to think about preparing for the Qualifying Exam, you can speak with your dissertation director, and the Director of Graduate Studies for the department.