Preliminary Examination

The Preliminary Examination is intended to assess each student’s command of the anthropology literature. The exam normally is administered only during the spring quarter, usually in May.

The Preliminary Examination is based on courses taken in the student’s first year and will be evaluated by the student’s wing faculty. Normally the Preliminary Examination may be taken only once. The graduate advisor, on the advice of the faculty of the student’s subdiscipline, will recommend to the dean of Graduate Studies that a student who clearly fails the Preliminary Examination be disqualified from further graduate study in this department. 
If a student does not pass the examination, the faculty of the subdiscipline, however, may recommend permission for the student to take the exam once more. If the graduate advisor concurs, the student will be re-examined no later than the following spring quarter. The graduate advisor will recommend disqualification from further graduate study of any student who fails the second examination. A student who is deemed deficient in a particular section of the written examination may receive a "conditional pass." In such a case the student will be allowed to continue toward the M.A. after completing additional course work that the examiners specify.

Preparation for the Preliminary Written Examination

First-Year Paper Contract

As the final element in the Preliminary Examination, the First-Year Paper is an intensive writing tutorial in which students hone their writing skills in an accelerated manner. It is a great opportunity to delve into your research project and to learn a lot about writing from a lot of people. The entire experience is designed to be challenging and to give students a firm basis in writing after only one year of graduate study in our program.

Format and timeline

Completed papers must be 20 to 25 pages long, double-spaced in 12-point Times New Roman, with 1-inch margins. The due date is May 25. 
Feb. 1 First-year paper title and 200-word abstract Feb. 1 – Feb. 23 Meet at least once with each of your two First-Year Paper faculty advisors 

March 14 Submit first version of the First-Year Paper, of no less than 15 
Mar 25 – May 16 Meet at least twice with each of your two First-Year Paper 
advisors May 25 Final paper due by midnight

Topic Selection

The First-Year Paper process begins with deciding upon a writing topic, which students must do using mainly their will and imagination. Some students might encounter difficulty in defining a topic without being told what to write about, but successful graduate study depends upon individual resourcefulness and a strong sense of purpose. The formulation of the topic is not a prelude to the exam, but rather is a part of the process itself. 
Students should understand that fear and confusion are things good writers must learn to work through. In fact, faculty scholars often work through these feelings even 10 or 20 years after their first year of graduate study. Artificially removing these conditions through an assigned essay topic does not work well as real-world training or as a real-world exam. 

We expect students to discuss their project ideas with advisors to help them determine a suitable paper project. There is no one-size-fits-all instruction that can define a paper for all students. Students therefore must use their own judgment and make use of the numerous faculty members available to clarify their own personal paper. Students may solicit an unlimited amount of advice and discussion during the entirety of the year. The ability to benefit from interaction with faculty is also part of the exam's purview. 
Students are encouraged to write about any topic that interests them and that can keep their attention over most of the first year. The one stipulation is that students must incorporate theoretical readings in such a way as to demonstrate their abilities with such material, and some of that theoretical material must come from their required courses (such as ANT 201 and 204). Therefore, the paper project should be designed to incorporate a theoretical discussion.

Of utmost importance in that discussion is that students must go far beyond mere summary of a theorist's argument and must demonstrate critical and creative abilities for formulating original and independent statements. When readers conduct their evaluation of the paper, they look very closely at evidence of depth of original thought. 

Typically, students should begin to settle on a final topic near the beginning of the second quarter. The final paper for the second quarter core course (ANT 204) is ideally the basis for the First-Year Paper itself. But students also can use another anthropology seminar as the basis for their paper. 
Students must submit a First-Year Paper title and 200-word abstract to the graduate advisor, with a copy to Denise Besser, by February 1. These titles and content are of course subject to change. At that point, students also should have chosen two First-Year Paper advisors with whom they will work during the second and third quarters.

Writing Process

By the end of the second quarter, students should submit their first version of the First-Year Paper (no less than 15 pages) to each of their two advisors, along with a copy to the graduate advisor (if not already one of the two advisors). Students are required meet at least two times during the course of the quarter with each of their two First-Year Paper advisors to discuss revisions of the paper. These required meetings must involve feedback and revision concerning specific writing samples, not simple consultation and conversation. 
Additionally, students find setting up their own workshops to read each other's work helpful. Such feedback is encouraged not only among first-year students but also between cohorts.

The evaluation

Your First-Year Paper will be evaluated by a committee consisting of two faculty members chosen randomly from all available S-Wing faculty who did not serve as advisors for the paper. You should keep in mind that the final audience for your paper is not the individuals giving you advice, but rather the "general public." Your advisors cannot guarantee anything and do not play a role in the initial evaluation of your writing. Any advice they give should be interpreted in light of these conditions. 
A paper that is deemed to require further review will be forwarded by one of the two readers to the entire wing faculty, all of whom will evaluate it, along with all other information about performance for the year, to arrive at a final decision about whether continuance in the Ph.D. program is appropriate. Faculty members routinely forward papers for the purpose of initiating a discussion about general parameters and expectations regarding the exam; forwarding a paper to faculty colleagues does not necessarily mean that a student's continuance in the Ph.D. program is in question. 
Included in the faculty's discussion amongst themselves in this second review is a report by wing faculty on their individual readings of the paper as well as by the advisors on the process of writing: i.e., whether a student was able to formulate the topic decisively, submit drafts in a timely manner indicating suitable effort, improve based on suggestions, and other evaluative considerations.

The results

Normally the preliminary examination may be taken only once. It is graded as Pass, Conditional Pass, No Pass, or Fail. With a Pass a student becomes eligible for continuing toward the M.A.-Ph.D. degree, assuming other requirements are met. A Conditional Pass is awarded to a student deemed deficient in a particular section of the written examination; in such a case the student will be allowed to continue toward the M.A.-Ph.D. program by taking additional course work specified by the wing faculty without having to retake the preliminary examination. Under exceptional circumstances a student might be given a No Pass, which means that the wing faculty may recommend that he or she be reexamined one time. If the graduate advisor concurs, the student will be re-examined no later than the following spring quarter. 
The graduate advisor will recommend disqualification from further graduate study for any student who fails the second examination. For a student receiving a Fail the graduate advisor, on the advice of the faculty of the student’s wing, will recommend to the dean of Graduate Studies disqualification of the student from further graduate study in this department, with no degree granted.