Saint Louis University

Preliminary Exams

PhD in Nursing

Preliminary Examinations
Preliminary examinations for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing are designed to test the comprehension and integration of knowledge that a student achieves after completing all required course work. The examinations include a written portion and an oral portion, both of which must be completed successfully before a student can be advanced to degree candidacy. To be eligible to take the preliminary examinations, all course work must be completed.


The student should prepare for preliminary examinations by reviewing the syllabus, course objectives and required readings from each course as well as the doctoral program objectives. Creating practice questions, outlining the content of answers to these questions, and participating in a study group may be helpful in reviewing and practicing for the preliminary exams.

To maintain continuous enrollment during the semester of preliminary examinations, the student should enroll for NR-N695 Special Study for Examinations (0) credits under the advisor's section number. When both the written and the oral exam are successfully completed, either before or after the dissertation proposal defense, the student changes enrollment to NR-N699 Dissertation Research with the intended dissertation advisor's section number.

Written Preliminary Examination
The written portion of the preliminary examinations is in the form of a three-question take-home examination. Responses should not exceed 10 double-spaced text pages and one page of references per question. The examination questions are available for distribution on a Monday morning, and the responses are due Friday afternoon of the same week. Students may receive the exam questions and may submit their responses to the director of the program either in person or by email as Microsoft Word attachments. Students are responsible for the delivery of their responses by the deadline.

A committee of three faculty members will evaluate the responses, which will be read blind to the individual students' identities. Two positive faculty evaluations on each question and overall are needed to pass the examination. The criteria for evaluation include:

  1. relevance of the content as a response to the question
  2. accuracy of the content
  3. clarity of expression
  4. evidence of logical thinking
  5. evidence of knowledge integration
  6. use of appropriate references
  7. proper grammar, spelling, punctuation, and reference citation format.
A student who does not pass the written preliminary examination is allowed a single retake of the examination.

Written preliminary examinations are typically offered early in Fall and early in Summer. They may be available in early Spring also, if needed. Students must indicate to the director of the program, at least one month in advance of the start of the semester they plan to write written prelims, that they are eligible and wish to take the written prelim exams that semester.

Oral Preliminary Examination
The oral preliminary examination covers nursing course work, the student's research that may be preparatory to the dissertation, the likely dissertation focus, and other relevant topics. This examination is individually scheduled. The Graduate School's Doctoral Oral Examination Committee form must be submitted to the Graduate School at least two weeks prior to the proposed exam date. This oral exam is conducted by a committee of five faculty members, all from the School of Nursing, unless the student has a declared minor (15-credits) outside the school. If so, a representative from the minor field serves as the fifth member of the committee. The student's academic advisor (or probable chair of the future dissertation) chairs the oral prelim exam committee; the director of the doctoral program serves as one member of the committee. The director of the doctoral program, the committee chair, and the student collaborate on the selection of the remaining members of the oral prelim exam committee. At the conclusion of the examination, committee members vote privately, without discussion, to pass with great distinction, to pass with distinction, pass, or fail the student. After voting and discussion with the other committee members, the chair notifies the student informally of the results. Formal notification comes from the Graduate School. A student who does not pass the oral preliminary examination is allowed a single retake of the exam.

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