Qualifying Exam


The purpose of the Ph.D. Qualifying Exam is for students to convince the faculty that they should be considered a Ph.D. candidate. Faculty evaluate whether the student has the knowledge, experience, perspective, and determination to complete the Ph.D. program. In addition, faculty will evaluate the student's presentation and communication skills to ensure a mastery of English sufficient to teach in a U.S. institution can be achieved by the end of the Program. Researchers in various areas may assess these qualities differently; therefore, the format and content of the exam vary dramatically depending on the research area.


Students must attempt the Qualifying Exam no later than the fourth semester. Students must have completed all the core coursework requirements (i.e. the Required Courses identified on the Program of Study form) and must have a Ph.D. advisor by the time of the Qualifying Exam. An advisor agreement form must be on file with the Academic Office. In addition, students whose native language is not English, regardless of citizenship, must pass the EPI (passing score is 5+), the TOEFL iBT-speaking subsection (passing score is 24+), or the IELTS-speaking subsection (passing score is 8+) prior to attempting the Qualifying Exam. It is highly recommended that students complete this requirement within their first year of the Ph.D. program to avoid any surprises at the time of the Qualifying Exam.

Qualifying Exams are held during a four-week period, starting on the Monday closest to the third week of each fall and spring semester.

For any questions regarding the Qualifying Exam process, please email Jennifer Comstock or call her at 217-333-4730.

Qualifying Exam Statements

In the semester prior to the Qualifying Exam, students will be asked to submit a "Qual Statement" (MS Word or PDF (must save first, then edit) version). This outline of research interests is forwarded to the appropriate research area committee. The area committee appoints three faculty members whose research matches the stated interests as the examining committee. However, in general, the committee will not include the thesis advisor. In many cases, this committee will select research papers to be studied by the candidate for the exam. After the Qualifying Exam Committees are announced, students are responsible for contacting their committee to schedule the exam, secure space for the exam, confirm the time and location to all committee members, and prepare necessary materials for the exam. Students must also inform Jennifer Comstockof their exam schedule and location. The results of the qualifying exam may be pass, fail, or conditional pass (conditions are usually requirements to take a course or two). Students with a "pass" result will be eligible to register for CS 599 thesis hours, effective their next term of registration. Qual results are reported to the Academic Office on an area-by-area basis, so it may take a week or more for a student to learn the results.

Failed Qualifying Exam

A student who fails the Qualifying Exam the first time has one more attempt to pass it in the semester immediately following the first attempt. If the Qualifying Exam is not passed on the second attempt, the student will not be allowed to continue in the Ph.D. program and may request to switch to the Master's (M.S. or MCS) program, assuming it can be completed expediently and no previous Master's was completed in Computer Science (Graduate College does not confer duplicate Master’s degrees). All other requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis by the Graduate Study Committee.

Qualifying Exam Committee Policy

The PhD. Qualifying exam committee should be composed of:

  • CS faculty and CS affiliate faculty only; and
  • at least two CS tenure-track faculty.

A second attempt at the qual exam shall have at least one member from the previous Qual committee who must be a CS faculty.

Exceptions to Qual committee formation may be requested in exceptional cases by contacting the Academic Office for approval.

Qualifying Exam Research Area Guidelines

Guidance on How to Prepare

The format and content of the Qualifying Exam varies dramatically depending on the area. For most areas, review the guidelines above. To prepare for the Qualifying Exam, it is highly recommended that students talk with

  • their advisor,
  • faculty in the area, and
  • students who have taken the particular exam before.

This information is particularly helpful for a student who has research interests that span multiple areas. Occasionally, more than one exam might be appropriate. The student should consult with his/her thesis advisor as to which exam is best for the planned research.


Graduate Advising

The Graduate Academic Office, a guiding hand for CS graduate students, assistance is available every weekday.