Qualifying Exams

Each student chooses specialty areas upon which s/he completes a written and oral examination. Normally, these areas will be identified in spring semester of the second year and exams completed in spring semester of the third year.


The student’s examination committee will be chosen in consultation with the advisor to reflect the specialty areas of interest. Usually it will include the same members as the student’s dissertation committee and will consist of at least two members from within the department, but may have more members, including faculty from outside the department. In cases where it is desirable or required to have an extra-university faculty member as a candidacy examiner, advance arrangements must be made. See Dissertation Committee section for more details.

For students whose focus is largely or primarily within cultural anthropology, it is expected that ethnographic area concerns will figure significantly in the exam. Such students should have on their committees at least one member whose expertise includes the ethnographic area of their proposed research. When such expertise is not found within the Anthropology Department, outside committee members should be sought from other departments at Emory or from other universities. Outside examiners may participate remotely or in person. The chair of the examination committee is responsible for securing a CV from any outside examiner and submitting it to the Graduate School so that the outside faculty member can be approved as an Adjunct Faculty Member at Emory.

Outside examiners may participate remotely or in person.


In the semester prior to taking their qualifying exam, students will work with their advisors and other members of their committees to develop a bibliography. The faculty strongly encourages students to begin the discussion of their exams in the spring semester of their second year. Development of an appropriate bibliography demonstrates competence in the specialty and will vary in length by topic. The bibliography must be approved by the advisor and other members of the examination committee.

Typically a student's bibliography will be sub-divided into several themes or subsections, which may focus on theory, region, and method. The qualifying exam questions will reflect these thematic areas. The student will work with their committee to select both the contents and the number of themes or sub-sections.

  • Subsections should begin with a short narrative introducing the section.
  • The bibliographic contents for each thematic area should contain no less than 40 scholarly items.
  • Subject areas should not be overly narrow nor should they overlap substantively; the content within each subject area should effectively “map out the boundaries of a field”.

Written Examination

  • Exams are normally taken in the spring semester of the third year prior to spring break. Exams may not be taken over breaks or during summer sessions. They must begin and end on days when the department office is open and staffed, since they are administered by the Graduate Coordinator or Academic Department Administrator.
  • Exams are take-home and open-book.
  • Knowledge of the thematic areas will be assessed in six essay questions, each of which will be answered in a minimum of 10 double-spaced pages. Students will be able to choose their six questions from a total of ten questions. All students are encouraged to discuss with their committee possible questions in advance of the exam.
  • The exams will be completed in either two sessions of 72 hours each or three sessions of 48 hours each and there will be a maximum of two weeks between exams. The student in consultation with the committee will decide on the format of the exam.
  • The advisor is responsible for requesting examination questions from committee members, coordinating evaluations of the exam, and communicating in writing the committee's conclusion to the student and to the Director of Graduate Studies/Graduate Coordinator.

It is the student's responsibility to schedule the qualifying examination with all committee members. Students may not schedule their exam if they have any incompletes in any of their courses.

Oral Examination

Upon evaluating the student’s written exam, the committee and the student will meet for the oral portion of the exam, in which the committee will ask additional questions. This should occur no later than three weeks after the completion of the written portion of the exam. Afterwards, the committee chair will notify the student of the results and a written statement of the committee’s collective evaluation of the exams, designating high pass, pass, or fail, must be submitted in writing to the student and to the Director of Graduate Studies by the chair of the committee.

Exam Results

Exams are graded high pass, pass, or fail, defined as follows:

  • High pass = Student's work showed clear evidence of mastery of material and originality, innovation, and creativity.
  • Pass = Student's work showed evidence of mastery of material.
  • Fail = Student's work did not show clear evidence of mastery of material.

Students who fail the written examination will be unable to continue work toward the Ph.D. Such students, however, have the option to petition their committee to retake their exam. Such a request must be received in writing by the committee chair within a month from the date of the original examination.

A student who fails qualifying exams a second time has the options of leaving the program with a Master's degree by demonstrating that they satisfactorily completed all required coursework. In addition, they must fulfill the requirements of the Masters degree of the Laney Graduate School. The requirements are listed in the LGS Handbook on pages 6-7.