Qualifying Examinations (QE)

Normally, all course work should be completed before students complete their qualifying examination. Students are required to successfully complete a qualifying examination (normally completed in Semesters 3 & 4, but not later than Semester 5).

The qualifying examination has a written and an oral component and covers sociological theory, the student’s substantive field of specialization and student’s research area.

QE Format (revised as of Fall 2018 Calendar)

The format of the qualifying examination is a take-home examination. Each written examination is followed by an oral examination. Each of these formats is explained in more detail below.

Students Reading List will consist of a total of 100 units to be read by the student:

  • Core Sociological Theory (40 units from list)
  • Area of Specialization (40 units from list)
  • Student Research Area (20 units to be developed by student & QE committee

Contextual Statement (1-1.5 single spaced pages) will comprise of one written paragraph per list (3 in total) that provides an overview of the key question(s) the student intends to address within each set of readings (i.e. Core Sociological Theory, Specialization, Research Area).

The QE committee develops 6 questions for the student to answer as part of their take home examination

  • Written: Student answers 4 of the 6 questions in writing (Note that there will be at least one from each reading list and that no more than one question may encompass multiple lists). 4000 words maximum per answer.
  • Oral: In oral defense, student may be asked about written responses, the 2 questions not responded to, and anything else from the reading lists.

QE Timeline

April (Semester 2) QE committee set (including QE Chair). Advisor must submit the completed "Qualifying Examination Committee Appointment Form" to the Graduate Program Assistant.

  • Student provides draft reading list (pulled from core theory and specialization lists) and corresponding contextual statement paragraphs to Advisor
  • Advisor adds/changes and sends to committee members for comments
  • Required statement and list approved by committee and available to student by third week of May (Semester 3)

  • Student presents 10 readings from Student Research Area and contextual statement paragraph to Advisor.

  • By fourth week of June: QE committee has the responsibility to provide 10 additional readings related to the Student Research Area, so the Student Research Area list is complete.

  • Within a day or two of receipt of additional readings noted above, student submit to Advisor/committee the entire approved QE reading list with compiled 1-1.5 single-spaced page contextual statement. Advisor forwards a copy to Graduate Program Assistant for student’s file along with the completed QE “Contextual Statement and Reading List” Approval Form.

  • Student reads

  • Student receives 6 questions from QE committee.
  • Student chooses 4 to answer in writing. [Reminder: also schedule tentative oral exam based on when student receives the questions].

  • Written component submitted (before end of second Week of October, Semester 4)

  • Oral defense (Note Oral defense no later than second week of November, Semester 4). The student will begin the oral defense with 15- 20 minute oral summary of their written responses. They may also choose to briefly cover one or both questions for which they did not provide a written response.
  • Following the presentation, there will be 2-3 rounds of questions. The question order will begin with the members of the committee not on the advisory committee, then the advisory committee member, followed by the advisor.

  • Written feedback provided to student (copy provided to Graduate Program Assistant)

Additional Notes

  • A Unit is defined as a book, a book chapter, or an article (so care should be taken to balance the depth and breadth with student’s ability to critically synthesis each unit in their proposed list).
  • Core reading lists are living documents. Lists will be reviewed by the SOC Graduate Program Committee in Winter 2019 and then again every 2-3 years. Core QE lists will be available on Department Website once finalised.
  • Upon completing all required courses and the examinations satisfactorily, the student will be deemed to have met the departmental standards and will become a candidate for the PhD degree.

Qualifying Examination Committee

The examining committee for the qualifying examination consists of five members as follows:

  • The Sociology Graduate Coordinator serves as chair of the examination committee except when this person is also a member of the examining committee. In this event, the chair will designate another member of the Sociology Graduate Committee to chair the examination.
  • Two members, normally of the regular or associated graduate faculty, who are not members of the advisory committee.
  • Two members of the advisory committee.

Normally, at least one of the qualifying examination committee members listed above must be from outside the department in which the student is registered. That person may be a member of the PhD advisory committee.

Assessment of Qualifying Examinations

The purpose of the qualifying examination is to assess students’ knowledge of the relevant subject matter and their ability to critically analyze, integrate and evaluate theoretical, methodological and substantive knowledge, and to assess their preparedness to undertake research for the PhD dissertation and to develop an analysis of their research findings.

As such, students are expected to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the foundations of sociological theories and demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the broad literature in the field as well as theoretical and methodological approaches relevant to that specific field.

Written and oral defenses add rigour and demonstrate different and complementary skill sets, and the opportunity to demonstrate capacity across the 4 program learning outcomes noted below:

  1. Critically analyze historical, global and local interconnections across social injustices.
  2. Interrogate the epistemological and ontological assumptions that underlie diverse foundational and contemporary theoretical perspectives and debates.
  3. Demonstrate a commitment to understanding theoretical and methodological pluralism including engaged scholarship.
  4. Create and mobilize knowledge in clear and accessible written, oral and visual forms with and for multiple audiences to affect social change.

Therefore, the student will be evaluated on their ability to critically assess and integrate the relevant literature, draw theoretical and methodological implications, and effectively communicate ideas to a community of peers.

As a qualifying examination, consideration is to be given not only (1) to the student's knowledge of the subject matter and ability to integrate the material derived from his or her studies, but also (2) to the student's ability and promise in research.

The examining committee, therefore, will receive from the advisory committee a written evaluation of the quality of the student's research performance to date and of the student's potential as a researcher prior to the oral deliberations. The examining committee will determine the relative importance to be given to these two major components of the qualifying examination.

The QE committee must agree that at least 3 of the 4 written answers are defensible prior to setting an oral defense date.

The students will be deemed to have passed the qualifying examination if not more than one member of the examining committee votes negatively on each component of the QE. An abstention will be regarded as a negative vote. The results of the qualifying examination will be reported to the Assistant Vice-President of Graduate Studies. The report will record the decision as satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

Within one week following a successful QE oral examination, the advisor will provide the student with a written compilation of the committees’ feedback, highlighting the student’s strengths and areas for improvement related to each of the learning outcomes associated with the QE. A copy of this feedback must also be copied to the Graduate Program Assistant, for placement in the students’ file.

If a student submits written responses that the QE committee deems to be not defensible, then the student has 4 weeks to resubmit written answers (must be re-submitted no later than end of first week of December). Committee must relay this decision (via QE Chair) within 3 weeks of QE submission (by end of first week of November) to both student and OGPS.

  • Clear written communication to student from committee on quality issues is required (through QE Chair)
  • Oral defense (provided defensible rewritten answers) is to be scheduled no later than the second week of January (Semester 5).

If the student passes on their first written component, but fails on the first oral exam, they will redo the oral exam within 3 weeks of the failure (before end of first week of Dec, Semester 4). QE Chair must relay this decision to student and OGPS

  • Clear written communication to student from committee on quality issues is required (through QE Chair)

Note: Fails automatically constitute "unsatisfactory" on Graduate Student Progress Report

If the student fails any 2 attempts (e.g., both written OR one written and one oral OR both oral), the QE Chair will submit a formal Required to Withdraw (RTW) recommendation to the Board of Graduate Studies via OGPS.