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Qualifying Exam and Dissertation

Qualifying Exam

The Qualifying Exam allows the student to demonstrate a specialized knowledge of the fields most relevant to support the proposed dissertation research.  (Literally, the exam demonstrates that the student is “qualified” to undertake the proposed research in terms of relevant content as well as theory and methods.) The exam comprises three parts/ questions and is administered as a four-day take-home exam (for example, questions are given Thursday 9.00am and responses are due Monday 9.00am).  Three essay responses totaling approximately 30 double-spaced pages will be written; at least one, but no more than two, of the three parts must be written in English.  The qualifying exam is taken by October of the third year.

The qualifying exam is based on a reading list of 75-100 items (books, articles, or cluster of articles, films etc.) composed in consultation with the committee; the reading list should be finalized by the end of the spring quarter of the second year. A two-hour oral exam (in English) conducted by the student’s exam committee follows within two weeks of the written exam.  The subject matter of the oral exam will be the three essay responses as well as the dissertation prospectus. 

In the absence of approval – i.e., if any portion of the exam is not passed – the Graduate Committee will determine whether the student may retake the exam; if a retake is approved by the Graduate Committee, the student must retake it within one quarter (i.e., by the end of the quarter following the first exam).  If the student does not pass the exam for a second time, s/he will be asked to leave the program. In exceptional cases, a student who has failed the exam for a second time, may petition the DGS to pursue a terminal M.A. degree, which must be completed by the end of the quarter following that exam.

Exams are taken on a Pass/Fail basis. All sections of the exam must be approved in order to receive a Pass. In case of a Fail in any or all of the three parts, a written commentary must be provided by the examiners to the chair of the examining committee, who will forward it with the committee’s report to the Director of Graduate Studies. In order to take the exam, students must have completed all courses (i.e., have no incompletes) prior to the quarter in which they will take the exam.

A student may appeal a failing grade on the qualifying exam to the DGS or (if the DGS is a member of an exam committee) to the chair of the department. The DGS or Chair will then convene an ad hoc committee composed of three faculty members, who will give your exam a fresh reading and decide whether or not they concur with the initial decision. This committee’s ruling will be final.


In accordance with the regulations of The Graduate School, the dissertation is an original contribution to the study of Latin American, Iberian, and/or U.S. Latino literatures and cultures. Per Graduate School policy, for dissertations written in a language other than English, the student is required to write a 10-20 page summary of the dissertation in English which must be included as an appendix; the dissertation abstract must also be in English.

An oral defense of the dissertation is required. The defense takes place no later than three weeks after the submission of the dissertation to the Dissertation Committee. All members of the dissertation committee must be present at the defense, either in person or by electronic conferencing.

*** For requirements regarding preparation and style of the dissertation, the doctoral candidate should consult the Graduate School’s material on the preparation and submission of the dissertation. If the dissertation does not conform to these instructions, it will not be accepted by The Graduate School. Please note also that students must complete the on-line Final Exam Application, accessible through Caesar, prior to the defense.

We urge that candidates submit a copy of their dissertation for each member of the committee.

The dissertation must follow the instructions outlined by The Graduate School with respect to form. The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers is the guide in all other matters of style.