PhD students who enter the program with a General Credit transfer from a primary Master’s degree take the Qualifying Exam , consistent with university policy.
Required examinations, including the Qualifying Exam, not be scheduled during University holidays, including Fall, Winter, and Spring Break. Note that most faculty are on a 9-month schedule so it is challenging to schedule an exam over the summer months.
The Qualifying Examination determines the student’s potential for completing doctoral study. Successful completion of the examination signifies the student’s potential and the faculty’s commitment to provide scholarly resources needed to complete continuing course work and the dissertation.
Students who do not take the qualifying exam and those who do not successfully pass the qualifying exam are not considered to be in good academic standing and may not continue in the doctoral program.
To be eligible to defend the Qualifying Exam, students must have successfully completed (grade of C or above) six courses (usually 2 full semesters) in the Penn PhD program. These courses must include the first year core courses: N750, N813, N753, and N754.
The exam cannot be taken if there is an incomplete in any course.
The deadline for defending the examination is October 15th (or March 15th for students in alternate sequences, such as part-time students) unless the student obtains written permission of the Graduate Group in Nursing Chair. This mid-semester deadline is to allow time for any possible remediation within the same semester.
Should remediation be needed, the second defense must be held prior to the last day of the Drop Period in the semester immediately following the semester in which the original exam was defended. For the exact date of this deadline, refer to the University’s Three Year Academic Calendar .
The Qualifying Examination consists of written and oral components. The focus of both elements of the examination is a substantive discussion of a concept with relevance to the student’s phenomenon of interest, within the perspective afforded by the discipline of nursing. Alternatively, the student may produce a substantive exposition of the state of the science in an area of inquiry and research of relevance to the discipline of nursing. Students are highly encouraged to work with their mentor(s) to develop their Qualifying Exam for publication. You can review previously published qualifying exams in the Resources section at the bottom if this page.
The written component of the examination is constituted by a scholarly paper. The written examination may not exceed 20 double-spaced, typed pages of text (references not included) and should be prepared in keeping with the American Psychological Association standards unless permission has been received from the Chair for a different citation format.
The oral component of the examination is constituted by an oral defense of that paper by the student for the Examining Committee. The oral examination is scheduled for one hour and should consist of an introduction of how and why the student chose the topic and a brief summary of the paper.
All three members of the Examining Committee evaluate the written and oral examination. The grading system for the Qualifying Examination is Pass/Fail, with a minimum of two out of the three Examining Committee members in agreement. The criteria for grading both the written and the oral examination are:
If the grade is Fail for either or both parts of the examination, both portions of the Qualifying Examination must be retaken and a grade of Pass must be achieved, with at least two of the three Examining Committee members in agreement, prior to enrolling in further courses. The examination must be retaken with the same Examining Committee unless a substitute member is approved by the Graduate Group in Nursing Chair. The examination may be retaken only once with no extension of the deadlines mentioned above.
Failure to pass both parts of the examination on the second attempt will result in the student being withdrawn from the program.
Please start the scheduling process at least four weeks in advance of the potential exam date.
The Graduate Group has developed a Qualifying Toolkit to help assist students in preparing for the examination.
Samples of published qualifying exams.