Examination Content and Requirements

The doctoral qualifying exam will diagnose critical thinking skills, general knowledge of biology and entomology, and communication skills through a written and oral critical analysis of a journal article. The purpose of the exam is both diagnostic and a measure of the student’s likelihood of successfully completing a doctoral program. A poor performance on the exam indicates that the student does not currently have the background to begin a doctoral program.

Qualifying exam committee
The exam is administered by the qualifying exam committee, which comprises three faculty members, one of whom is the chair, and two graduate student candidates. Depending on their availability, one or both of the students may participate in the exam. Two student representatives are on the committee to share the workload and increase the number of students who experience the committee. Should a student’s faculty advisor be a member of the candidacy committee, a stand-in faculty member must temporarily join the committee to fill the advisor’s usual spot and help administer the exam. The qualifying exam committee may recommend that the student seek remedial training if the student is only weak in a few areas.

Criteria for choice of articles for critique
The major advisor and student will select three research articles to submit to the qualifying exam committee at least 3 weeks prior to the written exam. The qualifying exam committee will choose one paper from the three submitted for the exam, and notify the student two weeks prior to the oral examination, which will also be one week prior to the deadline for the written exam. Thus, the student has one week to complete the written journal critique. The articles should be:

  • Recent full peer-reviewed primary scientific literature reporting results from research (review articles, commentaries, or opinion pieces are not acceptable), from high-quality journals, and contribute findings relevant to the student’s area of research.

WRITTEN CRITIQUE: In their written critique, the student should briefly summarize the article and describe its general relationship to other work within the field, identify and evaluate the hypothesis(es) being tested, the appropriateness and quality of the methodology including controls and statistical tests used, the soundness of the conclusions based on data presented and the overall scientific merit of the work, and present specific reasons for one’s views including alternative interpretations and recommendations for future experiments. Additional general guidelines for critiquing a journal article are available. [Critically Reading Journal Articles and An Introduction to Critical Analysis of Publications in Experimental Biomedical Sciences] The student should cite relevant papers in the critique. Conciseness is one of the grading criteria, so students should take care to be efficient in their writing. However, this critique should be completed as an independent effort without outside editorial input. The written exam is due to the committee chair by 11:59 PM on the day one week prior to the scheduled oral exam. If the student does not turn in the written exam to the committee chair by this deadline, the student will fail the candidacy exam and will not sit for the oral portion.

ORAL PORTION: In the oral portion of the exam, the student should be prepared to discuss how the journal article relates broadly to the field of entomology and specifically to the student’s general area of work, and to defend the arguments presented in the critique. In the oral exam, questions pertaining to general knowledge of any element of the paper may be asked, including but not restricted to, morphology and physiology; systematics, taxonomy and evolution; management, ecology and population dynamics of arthropods; statistics and information management /knowledge engineering. In this sense, the paper will serve as a “springboard” with which to judge the student’s general knowledge in biology and entomology. The student’s communication skills, including organization, conciseness, appropriate word choice, usage, spelling and grammar will be evaluated in the written and oral exam.
 In grading the exam, faculty will use the Qualifying Examination Grading Sheet.

  • Answers should be graded exceptional (5 pts) only if the student shows a depth and breadth of analytical skills in his/her evaluation of the peer-reviewed literature and cites important research and authors to support their position.
  • An above-average grade (4 pts) should be given if the student shows above-average analytical skills. An average grade (3 pts) would indicate that the student has reasonable analytical skills in this area.
  • A below-average grade (2 pt) indicates that the student does not have the depth and breadth of analytical skills expected of a doctoral candidate.
  • A non-acceptable grade (1 pts) should be given only if the student has not demonstrated any analytical skills in this area. Faculty should grade the exam from the standpoint of their expectations for the knowledge and understanding of a beginning Ph.D. student.

Evaluation of Communication Skills
Good communication skills are essential to the future success of each student. At the time of the exam, the student’s adviser will need to verify that the student has good verbal, reading, and listening skills as demonstrated through class/research performance and oral presentations as a teaching assistant, in classes, at meetings, etc.

Communication skills will be evaluated on the use of proper grammar, word usage and choice, sentence structure, spelling, and integration and organizational skills.

  • If all these attributes are demonstrated, the student will receive a grade of exceptional (5 pts).
  • An above-average grade (4 pts) indicates that the student has good organization, sentence structure, and proper grammar but that their skills lack in proper word usage, choice, and spelling.
  • An average grade (3 pts) indicates that the student is generally organized but occasionally does the following: uses improper grammar, uses words improperly, chooses words poorly, and/or misspells words.
  • A below-average grade (2 pt) indicates that the student’s writing is weakly organized and frequently uses improper grammar, poor word choice, and/or misspelled words.
  • A unacceptable grade (1 pts) will be given if the student demonstrates no organizational ability and all traits of the below-average grade recipient. In the case of an oral exam, the same general guidelines will be used in grading.

A mean score of two or below indicates that the student has very poor communication skills and has failed the exam. If the student passed the written portion of the exam and needs to retest in the communication portion, the student will be allowed to select a topic of his/her choice (from five to six general topics) on which to write an essay. This exam will be administered within three weeks after the Qualifying Exam and will be from two to three hours in length. The qualifying exam committee will evaluate this essay. If the essay still indicates a lack of English proficiency and writing skills, the student will be dismissed from the graduate program.

A mean score between two and three indicates that the student needs to improve his/her communication skills before taking the comprehensive exam. Before the comprehensive exam is administered, the adviser and members of the student’s committee will be required to provide written documentation that the student has achieved a high level of English competency and writing skills.

Mean score of three or above on both portions of the qualifying examination indicates that the student has good to excellent general knowledge and communication skills. A non-provisional pass will be given to the student and the student officially is admitted for doctoral candidacy.

Overall Evaluation of the Qualifying Examination
Exams will be graded on a five point scale, where a score of five = exceptional; four = above average; three = average; two = below average; and a score of one = not acceptable. Satisfactory grades are required for both the oral and written communication portions to pass the qualifying exam. Remember, as mentioned above, students that do not turn their written exam in by the deadline will fail the exam and not be allowed to sit for the oral portion.

  • An average score of three on the exam indicates that the student should review the material.
  • A score of two indicates that the student must seek remedial training in the area deemed deficient.
  • A score of one indicates that the student’s performance is not acceptable.

Evaluation of General Knowledge: To successfully pass the general knowledge portion of the exam the student should demonstrate “satisfactory” knowledge in the areas of Insect Physiology/Morphology; Systematics /Taxonomy /Evolution; and Ecology/Population Dynamics. The qualifying exam committee will determine remedial action necessary if a grade of “unsatisfactory” is earned in any of the general knowledge categories.

In an effort to help students correct any deficiencies, a student who fails the exam or any portion will meet with his/her advisor immediately after the results of the exam are known. The student and advisor will identify remedial action to be taken based on recommendations from the qualifying exam committee (i.e., taking a course or studying new areas, retaking the all or part of the exam). Remedial action must be taken within one year, and be documented by a letter addressed to the Department Head and the qualifying exam committee.
If it is decided that the exam must be retaken, and after the second exam the student has not passed the exam, the student will have the opportunity to request a third exam. A third examination, however, will only be approved if the qualifying exam committee, the Graduate Program Council (GPC), and major adviser (a combined committee) feel the student has potential and the exam has not been a fair test of the student’s abilities. If approved, the combined committee can require a written or oral examination and the exam will be given within two weeks of the previous exam. A student is admitted to doctoral qualifying only after he/she has successfully passed the doctoral qualifying exam.

If after taking the exam for a third time, the student does poorly as indicated by an average score less than three points (or approval for taking the exam a third time is not approved), the qualifying exam committee will recommend that the student be dismissed from graduate study until the student demonstrates an acceptable level of competence. It is important at this point that the student be counseled in other career opportunities that better match the student’s interests and background.

After grading the exams, the qualifying exam committee will provide a copy of the completed Qualifying Examination Grading sheet to the student. The qualifying exam committee will act as an arbitrator if questions are raised. This performance sheet will detail the results of the exam, recommendations for areas that need improvement, and any areas that need to be re-examined by the advisor and graduate committee prior to the comprehensive exam. The student is encouraged to ask faculty for clarification and greater detail on the evaluations. This is an opportunity for the student to recognize areas of weakness and strengthen those areas.

In the rare instance that a student is not properly prepared for this exam and has not successfully passed both the written and oral portions after retaking the qualifying exam, that student will be dismissed from the doctoral program. We encourage this student with the aid of his/her advisor and other faculty to evaluate his/her career plans and options; the future professional satisfaction of each student is the goal. After leaving the doctoral program, the option exists for the student to correct deficiencies in either knowledge or communication skills and apply for readmission into the doctoral program. That student will be expected to take the qualifying exam as soon as possible after readmission to demonstrate his/her abilities and to be admitted into doctoral qualifying.