Distributed Written Qualifying Exam

Nature of the Distributed (Written) Qualifying Exam

  • For the purpose of becoming “qualified” within the ECE PhD program, students will take comprehensive exams offered during the Final Exam period (“Course Exams” hereafter), which may serve independently as both the Final Exam for the course, and as a “QE Question”.

Qualifying Exam Score (“QE Score”)

  • The QE Score will represent the sum of scores on three (3) QE Questions, one from each of the following categories:
    1. One QE Foundation Course
    2. Any second QE Course in the same Area as the QE Foundation Course
    3. Any QE Course (QE Foundation Course preferred) in a second Area

Constraints on students for completing the Qualifying Exam process

  • Within the first six semesters of enrollment in the doctoral program, students may make an unlimited number of attempts to answer QE Questions, of which their three best QE Question scores on those exams corresponding to a specific subset of QE Courses will be counted toward their QE Score.
  • Students may commence this process while still in the MS program, with the six semester limit not taking effect until they have enrolled in the PhD program.

Outcomes of the Qualifying Exam

  • Students who achieve a QE Score of 210 points (70%) or higher, at or before the end of their sixth semester, will be deemed to be “qualified”.
  • Students who have not achieved a QE Score of at least 210 and have reached the end of their sixth semester will be considered for the classification of “not qualified”.
  • QE Appeal Process:  In the case of students who are being considered for the classification of “not qualified” at the end of their sixth semester, the student’s major professor may petition the Graduate Coordinator to review the case.
    • The Graduate Coordinator will review the student’s academic and professional record. In cases where this record is exemplary (i.e., demonstrates strong potential for future success), the Graduate Coordinator may elect to have the student’s Advisory Committee convene to evaluate the student.
    • If the Advisory Committee is willing to continue evaluation of the student, it will conduct an oral examination (45-60 minute duration), the result of which will be that the student will be considered “qualified”, “qualified pending remediation” (e.g., coursework, additional independent project work, literature reviews; subject to the approval of the Graduate Coordinator), or confirmed as “not qualified”.
    • Any student the Graduate Coordinator or Advisory Committee chooses not to evaluate further will be confirmed as “not qualified”.
  • Any student who is confirmed as “not qualified” will be removed from the PhD program at the end of the semester in which this classification is confirmed.

Area planning responsibilities for the Qualifying Exam

  • Each Area will maintain a list of QE Courses, for which a Course Exam may be taken as a QE Question.
    • A subset of the QE Courses, for which the material is deemed essential for a body of students in the discipline, will be identified as “QE Foundation Courses”.
    • The curricular Core Course(s) maintained by the Area will automatically be considered a QE Foundation Course.
  • Every academic year, each Area must:
    • Provide at least one offering of each Area-identified QE Foundation Course.
    • Provide at least one additional QE Course offering.
  • Each semester, instructors assigned to QE Courses will be made aware, at the time of assignment, that students may require a Course Exam to be offered.

Process for offering a QE Question (see also Table 1)

  • By the end of the 1st week of the semester, Areas will review and, if necessary, update the list of QE Courses.
  • Students who intend to take a Course Exam as a QE Question—whether enrolled in the course for a grade or not—must register this intent with the ECE Graduate Office no later than the 4th week of the semester.
  • The ECE Graduate Office will notify instructors no later than the end of the 8th week of the semester that students are intending to take a Course Exam as a QE Question.
  • A student who wishes to withdraw official registration for a QE Question must do so through the ECE Graduate Office no later than the end of the 12th week of the semester.
  • The ECE Graduate Office will notify instructors no later than the end of the 14th week of the semester how many students are expected to take a Course Exam as a QE Question, including the number of registrants who are not enrolled in the course, ensuring an appropriate number of copies may be prepared for the Final Exam period.
  • Prior to the end of the 14th week of the semester, each Area will identify, for each QE Question for which students have registered, two faculty who will serve as graders.

Process for grading a QE Question

  • By the end of the first Monday following the Final Exam period, the instructor will be responsible for providing (1) a QE Question solution, and (2) one copy of each Course Exam taken as a QE Question to the ECE Graduate Office.
    • Note: The original Course Exam is, where relevant, to be retained by the instructor for use as a Final Exam and final course grade determination.
  • The ECE Graduate Office will assign a code to each student, for each QE Question, and will anonymize submissions prior to distribution for grading.
  • The ECE Graduate Office will deliver anonymized QE Questions and the QE Question solution to the graders by the end of the first Tuesday following the Final Exam period.
  • Scores from the two graders will be reported to the ECE Graduate Office for averaging, no later than three weeks from the end of the Final Exam period.
    • Note: In cases where the Course Exam is also a Final Exam, individual student Final Exam and QE Question scores may be expected to differ.
  • Grading of QE Questions is strongly recommended to be double-blind (e.g., Figure 1).
    • At least one of the graders may serve the role of checking the QE Question, prior to its being offered.
    • While not recommended, the QE Course instructor may participate in grading of the anonymized QE Questions.

Table 1: Semesterly Responsibilities for Parties Involved in the Distributed Written QE Process


Week 1

Week 4

Week 8

Week 12

Week 14

Week 15 (Dead)

Week 16 (Finals)

Finals + 3


Confirm Area QE Courses




Identify graders to check/score QE Questions


Submit (ungraded) Course Exams and QE Question grading key to ECEGO

Graders submit QE Question scores



Register with ECEGO to take Course Exams as QE Questions


Deadline to withdraw from a QE Question



Take Course Exams








Inform instructors that their Course Exam will be taken as a QE Question


Inform instructors of count of enrolled/non-enrolled students taking QE Question

Assign codes for each student and associated QE Question

Anonymize QE Questions and distribute, with grading key, to graders

Update QE Score and status for all students in first six semesters of PhD program