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Office Location
East Studio Building 120 (JS 120)
205 S. Jordan Avenue
Bloomington, IN 47405

Mailing Address
1201 E. 3rd Street
Bloomington, IN 47405

Hours: 8 am–12 pm, 1–5 pm
Phone: 812-855-1738Phone

E-mail: musgrad [at] indiana [dot] edu

musicdgs [at] indiana [dot] edu (Eric Isaacson), Director 
serbes [at] indiana [dot] edu (Sara Erbes), Advisor
anmiller [at] indiana [dot] edu (Angie Miller), Recorder
musgrad [at] indiana [dot] edu (Collin Lewis), Secretary
musdoc [at] indiana [dot] edu (Janis Cooper Parker), Doctoral Clerk

More Information

Faculty Guide to Doctoral Qualifying Exams

After doctoral students (DM, DME, or PhD) have completed course work (which usually takes three years) they take qualifying examinations. This guide details the role of JSoM faculty in these exams. Faculty members my find it helpful to also review this information provided for students.

Qualifying exams are given in every doctoral program in the school and are meant to be a common requirement of all programs. But within the basic outline required by the JSoM faculty there is room for variation from area to area and (to a more limited extent) from student to student. This guide is meant to communicate the basic principles and to illustrate some of the ways, within those principles, that faculty members choose to give exams. In the areas in which there is room for discretion, this guide is not meant to be prescriptive.

Faculty members with questions about the exam process are invited to contact the Director of Graduate Studies.

1. When students take exams

Students ordinarily begin qualifying exams after their final semester of course work, though they may in some instances begin during their final semester of course work. Before taking a qualifying exam, they must have completed all tool subject and proficiencies, and completed all course work requirements for the major or minor field in which the exam is being taken. In the case of the major field, this includes all lessons, courses and seminars, and (in performance majors) at least a minimum number of recitals (the number varies by program).   

Students must apply to begin exams before they can schedule their first exam. After receiving the application, the music graduate office either confirms that they are eligible or outlines what they still need to do before starting.

As students prepare to take exams, faculty members may be asked to serve on a student's Advisory Committee.  The Advisory Committee consists of three members of the major field and one from each minor. This committee writes and reads the student's written qualifying exams and administers the oral qualifying exam. (In performance programs the major field Advisory Committee also grades the student's recitals.) Advisory Committee members for exams are always permanent members of the faculty at the rank of Senior Lecturer or Assistant, Associate, or full Professor.

2. Written qualifying exams

Students take a written qualifying examination in each field taught in the JSoM. Some minor fields are approved to substitute a closely parallel requirement (a portfolio of work, compositions, or a recital or jury in a performance area), but most give written exams that ask students to demonstrate their command of a field in essays and other kinds of written answers.  There is no minor field exam when a student selects Guided Electives in place of a second minor.

Students schedule exams through the music graduate office. Most exams take place in an exam room in the office, proctored by the staff.  (Many of the following procedures do not apply to the music theory minor exam, which is offered once per semester and administered in a group setting.)

When a student schedules a written exam, the graduate office sends an email to request questions for the exam.  The student's minor-field representative constructs the minor field exam, while the chair of a major-field advisory committee collects questions from the other two members and assembles the exam.  We recommend that the exam text be submitted as soon as possible, but no later than two weeks before the scheduled exam date. This lead time provides for an editorial review by the director of graduate studies, and helps to ensure that the office staff has ample time to prepare the exam for the student.  If the exam questions are not provided in time, the graduate office may be forced to ask the student to reschedule the exam.

Students may take written exams in the fall, spring, or second summer sessions. Students who expect to take a major or minor field exam in the summer are required to indicate this to the graduate office by March 15, even if they do not actually schedule the exam.  In the case of summer exams, the deadline for the graduate office to receive the exam from the advisory committee is the end of exam week at the end of the spring semester. 

Minor-field exams take place in a morning or an afternoon for a total time of 3 hours and 50 minutes. Major-field exams take place in the morning and the afternoon of the same day in two sessions of 3 hours and 50 minutes each.

Representatives are asked to provide complete exams, including questions and any supporting materials (scores, texts, and so on). The exam room is supplied with computers for typing answers, lined paper for hand-writing answers, scratch paper, and staff paper.

Major-field exams need to be in two independent sections, one given to the student in the morning and one in the afternoon. It is very helpful to students to provide approximate times for each question. Faculty are welcome to use one of these templates as a starting point:

Questions often include essays, but may also include score identification and analysis, score annotation, short identifications, and questions in other formats. Past written exams in every field are available for faculty consultation in the music graduate office; please get in touch with the director of graduate studies about this or with any other questions about constructing an exam.

After students have taken a written exam, the graduate office supplies them with a copy. Copies are sent to the minor-field representative or to the three major-field representatives for reading and grading. Faculty members are asked to read the exam and supply a result within two weeks. (An exception is when the exam is taken in the summer and faculty members are not appointed for the summer, in which case a response is requested by the end of the second week of classes in the fall.) The usual result is a passing or failing grade; in cases of disagreement among committee members (in the major field) or a desire for a partial re-examination, the director of graduate studies will consult with committee members.

3. Oral qualifying exam

After a student has passed all the required written exams, the student is eligible to schedule their oral examination. Oral exams are attended by the three major-field committee members, any minor field representative who wishes to give an oral exam in that field, and by the director of graduate studies, who acts as proctor and facilitates the committee's discussion before and after the exam.

Minor-field representatives have the option of waiving an oral exam for particularly strong exams, though in some departments it is traditional that an oral exam is always required.

Oral exams take place in the fall and spring semesters.  They may also take place in the summer, but only if the entire committee is teaching in Summer Session II or voluntarily offer to participate. Requests to change committee membership to facilitate a summer oral exam will not be approved.

Oral exams are held in the conference room of the undergraduate/graduate offices. Typically a student will reserve an available date (generally Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday at 3.30 pm) and then consult with committee members about their availability.  An exam date is not official, however, until the student has confirmed the availability of all committee members and the graduate office has distributed notice of the exam time via e-mail.

Oral exams generally last 75-90 minutes, depending on the number of committee members present, with questions from each committee member (typically major field first) possibly with follow-up questions from others.

For students in DM programs, the major field portion of the oral exam is based primarily on a list of repertoire from that field. The repertoire list must be approved before the student can schedule the first qualifying exam. The repertoire list consists of about 12 works spanning the genre and chronology of that field. It consists of full works (opera, song cycle, symphony), not individual songs, pieces, or movements. Some departments have established further guidelines. A student submits the proposed list to the chair of the advisory committee for approval, and the chair then submits it to the music graduate office for approval by the director of graduate studies. The oral exam is also sometimes used to follow up on the student's answers in the written exam.  Minor field representatives sometimes base their own questions on the repertoire list, but this is not required.

Students are given the results of the exam right away, after a conversation among committee members. Students are sometimes asked to repeat part or all of an oral exam. In these cases, the director of graduate studies writes the student a letter outlining the committee's concerns and laying out the requirements and approximate timing of a second exam.