Department of Mathematics
Duke University : Graduate School : Dept of Math : Math Graduate program
Ph.D. Preliminary Exam All academic policies and Duke graduate school forms are now found on one web page . For the forms you have to scroll down the page.

The Preliminary Exam

  • The primary purpose of the preliminary examination is to determine if the student has acquired the specialized knowledge necessary for their proposed dissertation research.
  • The preliminary exam is part of the Graduate School Requirements for the Ph.D. Degree. A student must be registered during the term in which they takes the preliminary examination. With the permission of the committee, examinations can be conducted during breaks between terms but only when the student is registered for the term on either side of the break.
  • The format of the exam can vary considerably depending on the committee. Often, applied math committees will have students do presentations on ongoing or proposed research; pure math committees will often only ask questions based on the courses. The student should meet with the individual committee members to learn their expectations.
  • The exam must be taken before the end of the student's third year. A student who has not scheduled the examination by this time must file with the Dean of the Graduate School a statement, approved by the Director of Graduate Studies, explaining the delay and setting a date for the examination. Except under unusual circumstances, extension will not be granted beyond the middle of the fourth year.

The Exam Committee

  • The preliminary exam is an oral exam in front of a committee of at least four professors. At most one member may participate by video conference, e.g., skype. This must be approved in advance by the graduate school. The approval is routine but they will give us a form that allows the remote participant to report their vote.
  • The chair of the committee should be the student's research advisor. Three of the members must be from the math department. One is designated to represent the minor area. The major and minor areas must be sufficiently separated.
  • Professors from other Universities can serve on prelim committees with the approval of the Graduate School.
  • The student and/or their advisor contact the members of the proposed committee to get them to agree to serve, but officially it is the DGS who appoints the committee. The student should fill the necessary information into committee approval form and give it to the DGS Assistant for submission to the graduate school.
  • After the Graduate School approves the committee, there is a 30 day waiting period before the exam can take place, so students should NOT delay the start of the committee approval process. Only a list of Professors is needed (not an exam date or time or syllabus, which is described below.)
  • In most cases, the committee for the preliminary exam will also be the committee for the PhD thesis defense.

The Exam

  • One the timing of the exam has been decided, the student should inform the DGS Assistant of the time and place it will be held.
  • The student and advisor will write a syllabus to be covered in the major and minor topics the exam. This outline must be approved by the members of the exam committee and submitted to the DGS Assistant two weeks before the exam. This document is important to clearly define the material for the exam.
  • Satisfactory completion of the preliminary examination occurs when at least 3 of the 4 committee members, including the committee chair chair, cast an affirmative vote. (For a 5 member committee, at least 4 affirmative votes are required.)
  • Results are report on the Preliminary Exam Report Form. All committee members must sign this form. If a committee member has voted "Fail" the word must be written clearly next to that voter's signature.
  • Assessment of performance on the exam will be entered on the department's exam evaluation form by each committee member.
  • A student who fails the preliminary examination may with the consent of the full supervisory committee take the exam a second time. The examination must be given by the original exam committee and taken no earlier than three months after the date of the first. Successful completion of the second examination requires the affirmative vote of all committee members.
  • If the student passes the retake then the failure will not appear on the student's official Duke transcript. Failure on the second examination will render a student ineligible to continue a program for the Ph.D. degree at Duke University.
Duke University : Graduate School : Dept of Math : Math Graduate program