Exam Preparation

Each student in the CRDM program will work with an advisory committee consisting of at least four members of the faculty in the Departments of Communication, English, and allied fields of study, based on the student’s plan of work. The committee must include at least one member from Communication and one from English. This committee will oversee the student’s research, examinations, and dissertation. For the purposes of the oral examinations, both preliminary and final, the committee will include a fifth member representative of and appointed by the Graduate School.

More details on the exams and dissertation are in the Academic Policies page.

Preliminary Exam

Students must successfully complete two examinations in order to receive the PhD: the preliminary examination (written and oral components) and the final oral examination (dissertation defense). The written portion of the preliminary examination will be geared toward assessing mastery of both core requirement subject matter and areas of specialization chosen by the student. The specific content will be based on reading lists developed in conjunction with the advisory committee.

Students may choose exam method A, B, or C in consultation with the dissertation committee. 

Exam option A

The student will have up to 4 hours per question to write an answer, with no notes, no outside sources, and no Internet connection. All questions must be answered within a 72 hour (3 day) period. The advisory committee will determine the location of the exam and the method for distributing the student's answers to the advisory committee.

Exam option C

The student will receive all three exam questions at once, at an agreed upon time. From that point they will have one week to complete all three questions. They can submit the questions in whatever order, and at any time during the week.

Exam option B

The student will have up to 4 hours per question to write an answer. The student will receive a question via email from their advisor, and will answer the question in a location of their choice. They must send the question back to the advisor within 4 hours. All questions must be answered within a 72 hour (3 day) period.

  • Regardless of format, each exam response is expected to be 10-12 pages (double-spaced), 4000 to 5500 words, and bear evidence of editing and revision. The responses should involve minimal reliance on direct quotations, particularly block quotations.

The oral portion of the exam follows successful completion of the written portion and will last approximately two hours. While it may include material covered in the written examination, it is not limited to the written work. The committee may also add time to this meeting for an initial discussion of the dissertation prospectus (see below). The graduate school representative will attend the preliminary oral examination and sign the Report on the Preliminary Examination to signify that a fair process took place. However, the representative is not a voting member of the committee. A unanimous vote of approval from the examiners is required for students to pass this examination. A student who fails the preliminary examination will be dismissed from the CRDM program.


Following successful completion of the preliminary examination, the doctoral candidate will submit a dissertation prospectus to the advisory committee. Building on the candidate’s research experience up to this point, the prospectus will outline the subject matter, methodology, and format of the proposed dissertation. Once the proposal has been accepted, the candidate will begin formal work on the dissertation.

The dissertation itself must contribute original scholarship to the field. It must be approved by all members of the advisory committee prior to the candidate’s application for the final oral examination.

The final oral examination, lasting approximately three hours, is the defense of the dissertation. In this examination, the doctoral candidate will defend the methodology, data, and conclusions developed in the dissertation. A unanimous vote of approval of the advisory committee is also required to pass this examination.