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Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology Preliminary Examination

Students (who started the doctoral program during the Fall 2022 semester) shall start the process of the reading list and questions part of the preliminary examination at the beginning of their fourth semester of study. The written and oral portions of the preliminary examination will take place during the fifth semester in the program. The preliminary exam is a requirement for all students that are registered in the Doctoral Program in Criminal Justice and Criminology here at Washington State University. All Doctoral students must successfully pass their preliminary examination before proceeding to their dissertation proposal defense.

Goals of the Preliminary Examination

  • Assess students ability to integrate and synthesize core knowledge in a specialized area.
  • Understand ongoing issues in the area of specialization.
  • A familiarity with current debates and developments in the area of specialization.
  • Critical thinking about mythological/statistical issues related to the specialization area.

Structure and Administration

  • Component 1: Reading and Question List Development
    Students will produce a personalized reading list which will be comprised of significant literature in the students defined area of specialization. In addition, students will submit a proposed list of five question focused on the substantive area of their specialization, and five questions focused on the methodological/statistics aspect of the area of specialization.
  • Component 2: Take-Home Paper Submission
    Students will write a take-home paper over the period of 57 hours over a three day period. The paper will answer two synthesis questions developed by the students committee, one substantive in nature and the other methodological/statistics in nature.
  • Component 3: Oral Defense
    Students must orally defend their take-home paper before their doctoral committee.

Preliminary exams will be administered in three segments: (1) reading and questions list development (2) take-home paper submission and (3) the oral defense. Students will be asked to notify the Graduate Director and Graduate Coordinator by the first couple week of the semester in which they plan to start the exam process. Please note, Component 2 must be scheduled with the Graduate School at least 10 business days before the examination.

Component 1: Reading and Question List Development and Deadlines

  • For component 1, the student will need to assemble a personalized reading list comprised of significant literature in their defined area of specialization. The student will need to meet with the chair of their committee to go over key readings that will be important to include on the list. The area of specialization should be narrow so that the student may investigate the topic in detail with depth and richness of the specialization interest.
  • The list requires the foundational works in the specialization that encompass historical, contemporary, and methodological/statistical components.
  • Student should make sure they meet with the chair of their committee to identify any weaknesses in the list and correct if needed.
  • Student will submit five (5) question that focus on the substantive area of the specialization and five (5) questions that focus on methodological/statistical aspects of their area of specialization.
  • The list should include two (2) questions, one substantive and one methodological, that address diversity and that directly correlates to the students specific specialization.
  • The deadline for Component 1 is no later than the 7th week of the fourth semester. The reading list and questions should be submitted to the committee chair no later than this timeframe.
  • Once the student has the list and questions to their committee chair, the committee will review and return the list with any further requested additions or modifications. They will have this to the student no later than the 10th week of the fourth semester as per DCJC Graduate Handbook policy.
  • Once the questions and reading list are finalized the student will need to submit them to the Graduate Coordinator for placement into their student file.

Component 2: Take-Home Paper Submission and Deadlines

  • The exam is a take-home paper and is completed over a period of 57 hours over three (3) days.
  • The student will be provided two (2) synthesis questions that will be developed by the exam committee. The first question will be substantive in nature and the second will focus on methodological/statistical analysis of the students specialization area.
  • The paper should be a comprehensive overview of their specialization area as it pertains to the question and should provide a critical analysis of the literature.
  • A minimum of 20-pages for the substantive answer.
  • A minimum of 15-pages for the methodological/statistical answer.
  • The paper should provide depth, a high caliber of writing, reflect the preparation work, and account for the 57-hour writing time limit. Leave time for polishing the paper.
  • Student may take the exam/take-home paper on any weekday/business day, Monday through Friday.
  • Student will receive the questions at 8am on the selected day. Students will then have 57-hours to complete the paper until 5pm two days after the start the exam.
  • The paper must be to the committee no later than 5pm on the last day.
  • The written exam and the oral defense must be completed within 30 days. The oral defense can be scheduled up to the last day determined by the Graduate School. (See the schedule here).
  • The committee will have ten (10) business days to grade the written exam. The oral defense should be scheduled by the first day you take the exam.
  • Keep in mind that the last day to schedule the preliminary exam is generally around the second to third week in November. The last day to complete the oral defense is normally in the first full week in December.

Component 3: Oral Defense and Deadlines

  • Students will orally defend their take-home paper before their doctoral committee.
  • Rules and Process of the Oral exam:
    • Student will be asked to leave the room while the chair of their committee sets the rules for the process and will ascertain the order of questions asked of the student during the oral defense.
    • There will be two (2) rounds, 3-4 questions per round of questioning. The first round will concentrate on questions regarding the substantive answer and the second round will focus on their methodological/statistical answer. There may be another round depending on if there are questions from other attendees at the defense.
    • Students are only permitted to have in their possession during the defense the following items:
      • approved reading list and two synthesis questions
      • a copy of the take-home paper
      • blank paper and writing instruments to take notes during the defense
    • Once the defense is complete, and all questions answered, the student will leave the room for their chair to distribute the ballots for voting.
    • The oral exam must take place within ten (10) business days after the completion of the written part, and no later than 30 days after the completion of the written part.

Evaluation Criteria

The purpose of the preliminary exam is to assess the student’s ability to integrate and synthesize core knowledge in the field, and to determine the student’s preparation and readiness following completion of the program’s core courses. This requires an ability to recognize, recall, explain clearly and precisely, apply, and synthesize major research concepts, findings, theories, methodologies, and debates within the specialization field, including any assumptions and policy implications and/or complications.

In accordance with Graduate School policy, in order for a student to pass the preliminary examination they must pass both the written and oral components with a score of 75% rating on their ballot from participating graduate faculty.





Graduate School Deadlines