College of Arts and Sciences

Dept. of Criminal Justice and Criminology

Preliminary Examination Requirements

The Ph.D. aspirant becomes eligible to attempt qualifying ("preliminary") examinations when he or she is in the process of completing the final courses included in his or her Ph.D. program. Only after a student has successfully passed "prelims" does he or she become formally a candidate for the Ph.D. (or ABD, "All But Dissertation"). Students should take preliminary examinations within two semesters following the completion of coursework.

Structure and Administration

The exam structure reflects a mutually agreed philosophy that the purpose of preliminary exams is to demonstrate breadth of knowledge (in contrast to the dissertation, which demonstrates specialized knowledge).

Students are required to take three preliminary exams:

  • Exam 1: Criminal Justice Core Exam
    The criminal justice core exam covers the criminal justice field as a whole. This exam will be designed to cover all material presented in the core courses for the Ph.D. program.
  • Exam 2: Area Exam
    This exam allows students to demonstrate expertise in criminological theory and an institutional subfield of criminal justice. This exam will consist of two parts:
    • One question involving criminological theory; and
    • Students will pick from one of three institutional areas – Policing, Courts, or Corrections – and will be required to answer one question in that area.
  • Exam 3: Methods Exam
    Students will be given a number of questions from which they will choose to answer one or more (as specified on the exam). The questions on this exam will focus on how to evaluate the implementation and success (or not) of a policy, or investigate a criminological theory or conundrum, or ask students to display quantitative reporting skills of analytical data. The goal of this exam is for students to integrate and use substantive and applied research knowledge.

Preliminary exams will be administered twice per year on or about the fourth week of classes during the fall and spring semesters. Students will be asked to "register" for prelims by the first week of the semester in which they plan to take the exam.

Exams will be taken over the course of three days (M/W/F of one week), and students will have up to eight hours each day to complete the examinations. Exam 1 will be given on the first testing day, Exam 2 will be given on the second testing day, and Exam 3 will be given on the final testing day. Computers will be provided for all students taking the preliminary exams each semester. Computers will be disconnected from the network, and all preliminary exams will be closed book and closed notes, with the exception of the reading lists provided by the department. No other outside materials (e.g., flash drives, etc.) are allowed during the administration of the exam.

The Graduate Advisor will oversee the exams each semester. All faculty members will be encouraged to submit potential exam questions to the Advisor. The Advisor, in consultation with the Chair of the DCJC, will select the final questions to appear on the exam for that semester. Grading of exams will be anonymous and done by a 3 member faculty committee. All students taking the exams will be assigned an exam number, and exams will be identified only by number during grading.

All students will be required to attend an oral defense. At least five days prior to the oral defense students will receive written feedback on each of the exam questions. This feedback will include whether or not the student passed each exam as well as areas the student should be prepared to address at the oral defense. The oral exam should be viewed as an opportunity to clarify one’s written answers and address questions raised within the written feedback described above.

Students who fail the oral exam will be allowed to retake the preliminary exam one additional time, subject to the same rules stated above. Students who fail the exam a second time will be dismissed from the program.

Preparing for Preliminary Exams

The purpose of preliminary exams is to demonstrate breadth of knowledge, and it is not designed to reward mere memorization of facts. The student should bear in mind that when a student "sits" for prelims he or she is seeking to be recognized as an aspiring scholar and peer of the examiners.

There is no "set" or "magic" way to prepare for prelims. A solid course background is, of course, an indispensable asset. The successful student will also have read substantially beyond course requirements, will have consulted faculty teaching in these fields regarding appropriate reading lists and preparation strategies, and will be thoroughly informed regarding relevant methodology. Reading lists for each of the four major areas are available on the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology web site.

The maximum period of time in which to complete both written and oral examinations is 30 days (Graduate School regulation). Under existing university policy, students cannot take any such examinations (prelim or final) unless they are registered for credit and have paid the fees entailed by such registration for the school term in which the examination is scheduled.

Contact Us

Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology
Washington State University
Johnson Tower 701
P.O. Box 644872
Pullman, WA 99164-4872
Ph: 509-335-8611
Fax: 509-335-4513

Dr. Craig Hemmens

Graduate Advisors:
Dr. Otwin Marenin (Pullman)
Dr. David Brody (Spokane)

Administrative Manager and Graduate Coordinator:
DeeDee Torgeson

Undergraduate Academic Advisors:
Kelli Laxson, Room 701b
(Students whose last name begins with letters: A — L; Criminal Justice is their 2nd major/2nd degree; Criminal Justice is their minor)
Sisouvanh (Sis) Keopanapay, room 726
(Students whose last name begins with letters: M — Z; Students who have questions about Internship Credits)

2013–2014 Handbook (pdf)





Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, PO Box 644872, Washington State University, Pullman WA 99164-4872, 509-335-8611, Contact Us