Philosophy Department

Junior Qualifying Exam

Standards for Grading Quals

In the Philosophy Department, the junior qualifying examination takes the form of a revision of a paper.

The paper on which the revision is based is normally a draft completed in Philosophy 370–Junior Seminar in the eighth or ninth week of the spring semester. The student receives comments on the draft, and submits a 5000– to 7000–word revision as the junior qual by a deadline set about two weeks later.

Generally, a student will take the exam in the semester preceding the thesis year. But because Junior Seminar is not offered every semester, some students may, at the discretion of the department, take Junior Seminar and the exam a semester earlier. If a student is not able to take Junior Seminar and the exam in either of the two semesters before the thesis year, the student may, at the discretion of the department, take the exam without taking Junior Seminar. In that case, the revision is of a paper submitted in another course in philosophy.

The original paper and the revision are submitted to the department’s administrative assistant for blind review. A professor reads the revision. If the professor gives the revision a Pass, then the student passes the junior qualifying exam. The department then certifies that the student is ready to begin a thesis on the basis of the passed exam and other evidence. A student who takes the exam a semester early and passes may not be certified to be ready to begin the thesis year the next semester, but to begin the thesis a semester later, provided that the student makes suitable progress.

If the professor gives the revision a Fail, another professor reads the revision. If the two professors agree, then the student fails the junior qualifying exam, and is not certified by the department to be ready to begin the thesis year.

If the two professors disagree, then a third professor reads the revision. The student passes or fails the junior qualifying exam depending on that professor’s evaluation of the revision.

No reader of the revision is to be the professor who read the original paper in a course.

The chair shall announce the results of the exams to the members of the department, and unless a member objects, will pass those results on to the registrar and notify the students of the results individually by letter.

The department’s standard for giving a revision a Pass is that the student clearly demonstrates in the revision the competence to write a passing thesis. (This standard is the one recommended by the department’s external reviewers in their report in February 2014 (sec. 1.C. 8).) In evaluating a qual, a professor looks to the department’s standards for grading theses and the competencies discussed therein: managing time, locating a topic, summarizing a debate, situating the topic, and writing a 10,000– to 15,000–word thesis that is clear, accurate, complete, and original. As a general rule, regarded as roughly correct, a student demonstrates the competence to write a passing thesis with a revision that would generally receive a grade above a C– in a 300–level philosophy course. 

The department’s standard for giving a revision a Fail is that the student does not clearly demonstrate in the revision the competence to write a passing thesis.

A student who passes the exam may pass conditionally. A student who passes conditionally has passed the junior qualifying exam and does not have to take the exam again. The conditions are conditions to be met to enroll in Phil 470–Thesis or to be met to graduate. The condition the student has to meet is to be specified in a letter to the student. The conditions can be of various kinds, depending on the particular circumstances of the student. Some conditions must be met before the student is allowed to enroll in Phil 470–Thesis. For example, if a student takes the exam a semester earlier than normal, the department may require the student to take another semester of classes before being allowed to enroll in Thesis. Some other conditions that the department may impose must be met in order to graduate. For example, the department may require a student to take Phil 370–Junior Seminar. No condition is to be imposed based on a student’s performance on the qualifying examination (the revision). 

Any condition that may be imposed is to be based only on the other evidence the department considers in deciding whether to certify a student as ready to begin a thesis.