The preliminary written exam consist of three essays, each of which is an open-book, take-home format. The examiner and student may decide between 24 and 48 hours as the time for a written preliminary examination. All students take exams in the two core areas of the program–rhetorical theory, and scientific and technical communication research and theory–and a third exam on the their specialty area.
Each written exam will be based on a reading list of no more than 25 books or articles. Since examinations are intended to reflect both material essential to the discipline and your particular interests and coursework, the lists for the two core exams will be anchored by 15 or so selections determined by the faculty and reviewed periodically. The additional texts for each core exam are to be determined by you in consultation with the advisor and appropriate committee members.
The 25 selections for the specialty area are negotiated by you, the faculty advisor, and any additional committee members that they deem necessary. The open-field, specialty exam is intended to prepare the student in the research area and methodology of her or his dissertation. To some extent, the rhetoric and scientific-technical exams test the student’s familiarity with two bodies of knowledge. Some times, but by no means always, the “outside” member of the committee sets the specialty exam topic. Students, advisors, and other committee members should recognize that the make up of the dissertation committee may be different from that of the preliminary exam committee; this is not unusual and does not reflect on the value of any member’s contribution to the student’s education.
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You may consult books or notes for these exams, though your preparation should be such that you require only occasional recourse to these materials. Each exam will consist either of one or two questions. They will allow you some choice with respect to questions. Where you are asked to pursue a single question, you will have two or three options; for two-question exams you will choose from three or four. The examiner may limit the length of the examination, for example, to “around 15 pages.”