Is any of you aware of studies that show how a Qualifying examination affects things like success in an Academic career, publications, etc.

As many of you know, there are many countries that do not have Qualifying examinations in Graduate school. I just would like to know if there is solid research on this topic.

  • One question would be whether qualifying exams are a pedagogical tool or a management tool. In my graduate institute is was either pass and go on to PhD research, pass but write a Master's thesis (marginal pass) and if that was good proceed on, or fail and leave the program. The question being asked was basically if you currently had the tools the faculty thought necessary to be successful in a PhD, not a successful career necessarily. Certainly failing would impact success, but it was not set up to quantify future success. – Jon Custer Dec 15 '15 at 18:28
  • 4
    I am not an applied statistician, but in my amateur opinion the effect of having qualifying exams on academic success could be hard to quantify. I can't think of two academic departments that are otherwise very close but one gives exams and one doesn't. (I am hindered by the fact that all departments at US institutions I am familiar with have these exams.) If you want to compare departments across different countries it seems...well, hard to compare. – Pete L. Clark Dec 15 '15 at 18:56
  • @PeteL.Clark UChicago doesn't have qualifying exams in their math PhD program, and most other top programs do. However, Chicago makes up for it by making their first-year graduate classes more challenging and labor-intensive than average, so it's still hard to compare because other comparable programs aren't really the same thing plus quals. – user37208 Dec 15 '15 at 20:05
  • 2
    I guess the only way to really do a fair assessment would be to have a control group and a group who doesn't make the Quals in the same institution, but I see all sorts of implications that prevent the school from doing that. – Leon palafox Dec 15 '15 at 20:16
  • 1
    Fascinating question. Perhaps you could start by backing up and looking at the role of exams in general in pedagogy. – aparente001 Dec 20 '15 at 0:33

In the institutions that have qualifying exams, 0% who fail them go on to earn a degree. I joke, but it is true!

I can't speak for all disciplines, but for those that take an apprenticeship (as in the sciences), quals are less about the exam and more about the process. It is often (but not always) the case that quals are taken very well into the graduate process, and by the time you get there, your committee already has high confidence that you will pass. Rather, the quals are meant to force you into a period of intense scholarship, reading, and reflecting that will shape the rest of your career.

I don't know of any research on the relationship between qual exams and academic success, but I suspect that the process of having quals does at least two things: 1) provides for an objective system to weed out students who should not progress forward and 2) provides a platform for successful students to focus for an extended period.

Remember, the prestige (of the university) standing behind your degree is connected to the quality of people who hold it. Having high standards and a difficult process (quals) only strengthens the reputation of the institution and by association, your degree.

So perhaps the better question is whether or not places that do not require qualifying exams award degrees to less prepared students?

  • In the institutions that have qualifying exams, 0% who fail them go on to earn a degreeThis is an exaggeration. Some students switch to a different degree program at the same institution. Some students move to a different institution. Some students successfully appeal the failure decision. – JeffE May 7 '16 at 16:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.