Preliminary Examinations

Readings for the Preliminary Examination

(VS 298, prior to Fall 2012; VS 298A, Fall 2012 onward)

Reading lists must be of a reasonable length, i.e., between 25 to 40 sources, which may include a mix of books, articles, and book chapters. Reading lists must be finalized at the beginning of the quarter of VS 298A enrollment. Should any readings be added to the list during the course of the enrolled quarter, the reading list must remain within the reasonable length designated above.

Faculty are discouraged from supervising more than two VS 298As per quarter.

Preliminary Exams

Please refer to the official Catalogue requirements, found here: click here for official requirements for exams.

After completing all required coursework, students must take their preliminary exams. These exams must be passed in order for the student to begin work on the dissertation prospectus and then advance to candidacy for the Ph.D. Students complete a two exam readings: one with the primary advisor and one with another faculty member. Students then complete two written exams and one oral exam.

For students who entered the Ph.D. Program in Visual Studies without an M.A., submission and approval of the M.A. paper is a prerequisite for enrolling in VS 298A Preliminary Exam readings. Normally, the M.A. paper submission and approval process should have been completed by Spring quarter of the second year.

Please NOTE this change in terminology:
Requirements prior to fall 2010: Refer to the exams as "qualifying exams." 
Requirements beginning fall 2010: Refer to the exams as "preliminary exams."

  • Prior to fall 2010, once students completed these "qualifying exams" they would advance to candidacy with the university.
  • Beginning fall 2010 once students complete these "preliminary exams" they must enroll in and pass Visual Studies 297 Writing Practicum and have their prospectus approved by their dissertation committee before they will be advanced to candidacy with the university.

Advisor and Preliminary Exam Committee Composition

More on committee composition rules can be found in the Graduate Policies & Procedures.

When a student enters the program they are assigned a default advisor, the Director of Visual Studies. By the end of their first year all students are expected to find a principal advisor that fits their research interests. The principal advisor can be changed before preliminary exam readings are undertaken if the need arises. The student should meet with their advisor at least once per quarter.

Before the student completes any exam reading they should work with their principal advisor to establish a five-person committee to conduct the preliminary exam. The 5-person preliminary examination committee is comprised of the following: A principal advisor, who will generally also be Dissertation Chair and supervise one examination field; one additional faculty member, must be VS faculty, who will each supervise one examination field; a third faculty member who may be a VS faculty member, a fourth member, who must be a VS faculty member, and a fifth committee member, who will be from the UCI faculty but not be a member of the VS, FMS, or AH faculty. The fifth member, also known as the "outside member," can be selected closer to the Preliminary Examination quarter. This should also be the Prospectus Defense Committee.

Exam Readings

The student and principal advisor define two fields to be examined by the faculty. The fields should combine historical breadth and some variety in media. Over the course of the following quarters, students normally enroll in eight to twelve units per quarter of Reading for the Preliminary Examination (Visual Studies 298A) during which time they prepare reading lists in close consultation with their principal advisor and field supervisors, and complete the reading of those lists. The examination takes place near the end of those quarters of study, normatively at the end of the academic year.

Exam Format

The first part of the examination consists of a written component, in which the student is called upon to respond to questions posed in the two examination fields. The written portion consists of six hours of writing in a controlled environment, without access to books or notes. At the option of the student, the six hours of examination may be split over two days, the work of each day being submitted at the end of the writing session; the student, in consultation with his/her advisor(s), can determine the order in which the questions will be administered. The questions to be answered in each area will be given to the student at the beginning of the appropriate testing session, and will be collected precisely at the scheduled end of the session, with no extra time allocated for breaks, spell-checking, and so forth. The student's written response will be circulated to all five members of the committee and the student. Tests are conducted in a quiet, closed environment. Students leave their belongings with the VS Staff. A paper, pencil and laptop computer with a word processor only will be provided to the student. The exam will be typed.

After completion of the written portion, a two-hour oral examination will follow normally within two weeks. It consists of questions prompted both by the student's reading lists and by the written examinations. The concluding portion (approx. 15 minutes) of the two hour exam will involve a preliminary discussion between the student and the faculty committee about the student's dissertation ideas. Students are allowed to bring notes to this exam.

Exam Scheduling

After completing all two sets of readings for the exam each student assumes responsibility to schedule the written and oral examinations. Except in extraordinary circumstances, the oral portion of the examination must take place during the regularly scheduled academic year; faculty members may refuse to participate in examinations over the summer or during any other inter-term break. 

  • Students should contact the VS Staff as soon as possible about scheduling their exams.
  • Students indicate:
    • The dates and times they would like to take the exam.
    • Who the two faculty are who are giving questions.
    • Who their primary advisor is.
    • Who constitutes the rest of the 5-person committee.
  • VS Staff:
    • Find a suitable room for each exam and communicate that to the student.
    • Contact the two faculty serving as exam readers to solicit the exam questions.
  • Tests are conducted in a quiet, closed environment. Students leave their belongings with the VS Staff. A paper, pencil and laptop computer with a word processor only will be provided to the student. The exam will be typed.

Forms & on the day of the Oral Exam

On the day of the Oral Exam students must bring "Advancement to Candidacy - Ph.D. Degree (Ph.D. Form I)" to their exam. Students fill out the top portion and list the members of their 5-person committee, who then sign the form in original ink. The student and the committee need to determine the membership of the three-person Doctoral Committee. The three-person Doctoral Committee must have a 51% majority membership from Visual Studies faculty.

The student should indicate with an asterisk ("*") those members of the committee that will continue to serve on the doctoral committee. (See more on the Doctoral Committee here.)

Form found here:

  • If a student is passed, the five-person committee must sign off on the form, in ink with their original signatures.
  • IMPORTANT: If following pre-fall 2010 requirements, the form is then immediately taken to the Cashier's office where advancement fees are paid. The form is then immediately turned in to the VS Staff, who will gather the remaining signatures and turn the form in to Graduate Division. Once Graduate Division approves the form, a student will be advanced to candidacy for the Ph.D.
  • IMPORTANT: If following the requirements adopted in Fall 2010 onwards, the student still gathers all signatures on the form, and immediately turns this in to the VS Staff. It is then placed in a file for "pending" Ph.D. I forms and will be turned in to Graduate Division the following spring quarter, only after the student has successfully completed VS 297 Writing Practicum. *** It is very important that the student be given a copy of this form, that a copy is placed in the student's file, and that the original remains in the "pending" folder. *** Until this form is turned in to Graduate Division, a student will not formally advance to candidacy.