Preliminary Qualifying Examination

Design of the PQE

The PQE is an essay exam constructed to assess the student's capability to design a research proposal based on a research problem scenario presented to them. It also tests the capacity for clear and logical expository writing. The student answers one question chosen from a set of four or five questions based on a policy or management problem. The PQE does not examine specific substantive knowledge from any given course; instead, it relies on the student's general knowledge and the appreciation of the logic of applied social science research.

The PQE is offered once a year in March. Sample exams are available to assist students in preparing for this exam. In addition, the program runs a PQE study group beginning in January each year.

Only students in good academic standing may take this exam. The PQE may be taken twice; failure on the second attempt will result in termination from the doctoral program. Students who do not successfully pass the PQE on their first attempt will not be allowed to register for additional coursework until they pass a re-take exam during the summer after their first year.

Grading of the PQE

Each exam is graded independently by at least two faculty members. Exams are reviewed and graded anonymously. The faculty members then compare results and discuss any discrepancies in the grades. Students are notified of their final grades approximately four weeks after taking the exam. Students who do not pass are encouraged to speak to the relevant faculty to see how they can improve their performance. The specific areas considered in assessing the quality of the exam include: research context, articulation of a conceptual framework/causal model, statement of hypothesis, study design, sampling strategy/method of assignment, quality of measures, data source/data collection, analysis plan, and limitations.