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General Exam

The Ph.D. general exam is the second of three required exams and admits the student to Ph.D. candidacy. The purpose of the general exam is two-fold: to test a graduate student’s capability to conduct independent research and to evaluate the technical merits and feasibility of the student’s proposal for the Ph.D. dissertation.

Upon successful completion of the general exam, the Graduate School will award the student a Ph.C., the Candidacy Certificate. The following quarter, the student may begin to register for dissertation credits (EE 800). The student must earn 30 credits of EE 800 to graduate.


Students must take the general exam within one year of passing the qualifying exam.


  • Completion of 60 credits at the UW (a master’s degree from the UW or another institution may be used as a substitute for 30 credits)
  • 18 credits of coursework taken at UW as graded credits
  • Registered for a minimum of two credits during the quarter the exam will be taken


  • The student’s first step is to consult with their faculty adviser to form a Ph.D. supervisory committee. The committee must be comprised of at least four members who will attend both the general exam and the final exam. Committee members must be appointed at least four months before the student intends to take the general exam.
  • The student must submit a dissertation proposal to their supervisory committee 4-6 weeks before the exam to assure sufficient time for the committee to review the dissertation proposal before they agree to schedule the exam.
  • The proposal must contain a discussion of the background literature on the problem area, formulation or description of the specific topic of research, proposed approach or methodology, feasibility arguments, the objective of the research project and a list of references. The total length of the proposal is normally about 20 pages.
  • During the general exam, the student will make an oral presentation of the proposal. The presentation should include a critical review of the most relevant literature in the student’s specific area. The student will be examined by the supervisory committee during a question-answer period.

The supervisory committee will make the pass/fail decision based on the quality of the proposal, the presentation and answers to the questions. Comments and suggestions from the supervisory committee concerning the proposal will be given to the student following the exam.