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Qualifying Exam


The purpose of the Qualifying Exam is to give students an opportunity to demonstrate their capacity to undertake doctoral level work in their selected field of study. The Ph.D. Qualifying Exam is a department requirement for all Ph.D. students in order to continue on to the Ph.D. The exam is not a Graduate School requirement.


A cumulative UW GPA of 3.5 is required. If a student's UW GPA is less than 3.5 after three quarters and the Qualifying Exam has not been taken, it cannot be taken and the possibility of Ph.D. candidacy will be re-evaluated.


Students who have received a master’s degree from another institution or another UW department must complete the Qualifying Exam the first time it is offered by their area (no later than the end of their third quarter in the department).

Continuing Students who have received a master’s degree from the CEE department must complete the Qualifying Exam the first time it is offered by their area.

Students who were admitted directly to the Ph.D. program (who do not have a master’s degree) must complete the Qualifying Exam the first time it is offered by their area after they have completed three quarters of academic coursework.

Failure to take the Qualifying Exam as specified above could result in an “unsatisfactory progress” warning.

The Qualifying Exam will normally be given at times determined by the Program Director. Program faculty will coordinate, schedule and conduct the exam. Check with your faculty adviser for scheduled exam dates for your area.

Qualifying Exam Committee

A Qualifying Exam Committee will be appointed in conjunction with the student’s faculty adviser and will be composed of at least three faculty. At least two members must be from the student’s general disciplinary area. Faculty from another UW department may serve on the committee, particularly if they are involved in the student’s research.

Exam format

The exam format may vary among areas. The student’s faculty adviser will meet with the student prior to the exam to ascertain material appropriate for testing. Most exams generally contain an oral and written component.  More information about exam requirements by sub-specialty is available at the bottom of this page.

Notify Advising Office

To notify the Advising Office of your exam details, email

Summary report

The Qualifying Exam Committee Chair will notify the student of the exam outcome and will include any constructive advice the committee may have for the student (recommended classes, etc.). The committee chair will submit the online Qualifying Exam Notification form to inform the Advising office of the exam outcome. This documentation will be included in the student’s file.

Note: Funded students who receive a monthly stipend as a research or teaching assistant or from a departmental fellowship will receive a raise effective the quarter after passing the Qualifying Exam. If the exam is taken between quarters, it will be considered taken during the next quarter, and the raise will go into effect the following quarter.