Ph.D. students typically take their Doctoral Qualifying Examination (DQE) late in their second year of the program. These exams consist of three written sessions (two four-hour sessions for major fields, and one four-hour session split between two minor fields) and one oral session (three hours). Success on your DQE is the gateway to “doctoral candidate” status.
Let it be known that these exams are difficult (rightly so) and will require a serious commitment in terms of time and effort for all students who wish to earn their doctorate in history at MU. You should plan on devoting much of your time to preparation and study during the months prior to your exam date.
Here are some guidelines for preparation and successful completion of the infamous DQE:
All students work on an individual timeline, however, the DQE is generally taken by the beginning of the third year of one's Ph.D. program. Early in your second year, you should:
- Determine your exam fields: Students are tested in four fields.
- Europeanists test in two European fields, one U.S. field, and one methodological/geographical field.
- Americanists test in modern and early U.S., a European field that corresponds with their major U.S. period, and one methodological/geographical field.
*Consult with your advisor about your fields, and plan ahead (i.e. be sure to take colloquia and think seriously about arranging for your colloquia instructors to examine you in the corresponding field. If you have taken Modern U.S. with Professor X you will be much better prepared to understand his/her expectations for a Modern U.S. DQE).
- Select your committee in conjunction with your advisor: You will have four people on your committee (one for each field). Once you have determined your choices, contact each professor and ask if he/she is willing to serve on your committee.
- Arrange to meet with each examiner individually: Each professor will have a reading list and specific expectations for your written and oral exams. You should sit down with your examiners and go over book lists. Consider asking them how much detail they would like, how much weight they tend to give narrative vs. historiography, and how they might divide your exam (e.g. will your modern exam fields cover material up to the 21st century? When will your early fields begin and end? Will your examiner divide his/her questions by theme or time frame? Will you be able to choose from multiple questions or will you have to answer every question that appears?).
- Consider picking the brains of fellow students who have taken the DQE: You are not alone! Many of your colleagues have been through the trial of DQEs before and they are all rooting for you. Do not hesitate to ask for their advice on book lists, studying, test week experiences, and how to cope with the stress of the exams overall.
- Plan to spend plenty of time preparing! If you put off gathering notes and studying until 1-2 months before your exam, you might find yourself on the verge of losing your sanity. This is not an exam that lends itself to cramming. You should have your reading lists finalized at least 4-5 months in advance, and note-taking and studying should ideally be done in the remaining time leading up to test week.
- Schedule your exam week: Your test dates must be coordinated with your advisor and your entire committee must confirm. Test dates, times, and location are arranged through Jolene in the department office. You may take the written portion in the conference room, or elsewhere in the department depending on scheduling. If you would like to type your exams, be sure to specify so that a computer can be made available. Your oral exam date is generally 1-2 weeks after the written, and should be coordinated through your advisor.
- Written exams take place over three days: Each test day consists of four hours of writing time. Your major fields each take up one day, while two minor fields are completed on the same day (two hours for each). You can elect to test three days in a row, or spread out your exam M-W-F with a day for rest and study in between. You also get to select the order of your exam, so think about which field you would like to tackle on day one and so on.
- Watch out for your mental and physical health: DQE week would probably not be described as “fun” by even the most dedicated graduate student. Though exams only take up four hours of the day, that time is mentally and even physically exhausting. It is easy to become overly stressed, so please consider the following:
- Realize you have to stop studying some time! By exam week, you have been preparing for months, so try to accept that there is only so much “last minute” studying you can do at that point.
- Get plenty of sleep every night during exam week
- Stock up on good food and pack some bottled water on test days
- Enlist your family and friends as support. Whether you need someone to pick up your phone call, pick up some lunch for you, or pick you up off the floor, it helps to let others in on what is going on.
- Move on to your oral exam: After the week of written testing is over, be ready to mentally move on and start thinking about the oral exam. Consider scheduling a meeting with your advisor several days beforehand to talk through the oral testing process. If you feel comfortable, you can ask your other examiners if they have any specific advice for you regarding their segment as well.
Oral examinations will take up to three hours. Typically the test time is broken up into two rounds with a short break between. It is common for each committee member to have an opportunity to ask you questions in both rounds one and two. Examiners might ask you to speak to issues their written questions did not cover, or you may be asked to clarify your written answers. It is not uncommon for examiners to ask “lighting-round” questions in which you are asked to speak on an individual term, person, or event in history. Bottom-line it is up to each examiner what they ask you and in what format.
So to all who embark on this journey, good luck! If you have questions, do not hesitate to ask your fellow graduate students, your advisor, or the Director of Graduate Studies. Also, be sure to check out the Forms and Deadlines section of the HGSO website for any relevant paperwork surrounding the DQE process.