VI. General Examinations

As part of the preparation for writing the thesis, all PhD candidates in EALC and HEAL must pass a two-hour oral examination in three fields of knowledge, one of which should be chosen to demonstrate breadth in regard to a different geographical area, discipline, or period. There is no written examination. The purpose of the examination is to determine if the student is qualified, a) to carry out advanced research in the field and b) to begin teaching. Hence they are sometimes also known as “qualifying examinations.” Students are tested both on their control of information and on their mastery of the scholarship in a range of fields. At the end of the second year of study (preferably at the end of the first year for transfer students from the RSEA AM program), students must submit to the DGS an Intent to Take the General Examination statement listing the proposed fields and examiners. Of the usual three fields, one must be chosen from outside the student’s primary regional, temporal, or disciplinary focus.

Preparing for Generals

While most faculty will work with students to develop a syllabus of readings that will serve as the basis of the examination, they differ in the particulars of how they go about preparing students for examinations. You are advised to consult carefully with prospective examiners as to their expectations.

Examiners and Examination Fields

The student’s examination committee is composed of no fewer than three, and no more than four, members of the faculty, at least two of whom must belong to EALC. Non-EALC Harvard faculty members may be asked to participate, with the approval of the student’s advisor. In certain circumstances, non-Harvard faculty may be asked to participate, with prior approval from the Department. Any exceptions to these rules must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies.

No exception can be made to the rule requiring a minimum of two Harvard faculty on a PhD examining committee. Similarly, a student should not take two fields of the general examination with the same examiner.

In the exceptional event that it is not possible to bring all members of the committee together for the examination (for instance, because a faculty member is out of the country for an extended period), the exam may be split into two separate sessions. In such cases, the chair of the committee must be present on both occasions.

A listing of faculty fields is available in the EALC main office, on the Department website, and Section XII. Students typically will have taken one or more seminars from each member of the examining committee. Indeed, some professors make this a requirement. If in doubt, ask.

Administration and Evaluation

The advisor is the chair of the examination committee and is in charge of administering the examination itself. No notes, books, or computers are permitted the examinee. Each examiner has thirty minutes to question the candidate. By custom, the order in which fields are examined is determined by the candidate. At the conclusion of the examination, the candidate is asked to leave the room while the examiners confer on the grade. The deliberations concluded, examinee is then invited back in and is immediately informed whether s/he has passed.

Passing grades for the General Examination are Excellent, Good, or Fair, with the possibility of a plus or minus. A mark of Excellent is uncommon and indicates an outstanding performance. A mark of Good indicates a solid performance with no real weaknesses. A mark of Fair suggests a marginal performance, with some significant limitations in performance. A mark below Fair means the student has failed the examination. All grades are final.

Apart from “pass” or “fail,” the student is not informed of the grade at the examination. Examination grades may be requested from the advisor or the Graduate Coordinator one week after the examination. The examination grade is kept in the student’s file and is reported to the Registrar. However, the examination grade is not listed on the student’s transcript and does not constitute part of the student’s dossier for future applications to academic positions.

Generally, a student who has passed the General Examination moves on to the next step in this phase of the program, which is the prospectus (see Section VII). Students who have passed examinations have the option of filing for the Interim AM degree, otherwise known as ."in passing". The student would complete a Degree Application form and present it to the Graduate Coordinator who will obtain the appropriate department signature and then forward it to the Registrar's Office.

A student who has failed the examination may be permitted to re-take the examination at the next available departmental examination period. In cases where students are failed and permitted to try again, it is not Department policy to allow students to re-take the General Examination more than once. Students who have met all the requirements for the PhD but do not pass general examinations shall be withdrawn from the program. If they do not already have an AM degree from Harvard, they may petition the Department to receive the AM degree in East Asian Languages and Civilizations.

Scheduling the Examination

Students must ordinarily take and pass the General Examination by no later than the end of the G3 year (departmental G2 year for transfer students from the RSEA AM program). A “Petition for General Examination for the Ph.D. Degree” form should be filed six months before the examinations take place, and must be reviewed by the DGS and the Academic Program Committee. This form requires students to list their fields and examiners and to verify the completion of required seminar papers and language requirementsUpon receiving this request, the Graduate Program Coordinator will schedule each student’s exam in consultation with the student and examiners.

Examination periods for EALC and HEAL candidates are scheduled three times during the year: in September (during the first two weeks of classes in the fall term), February (during the first two weeks of classes in the spring term), and May (during the final two weeks of classes in the spring term). Under exceptional circumstances, off-cycle examinations may be scheduled upon consultation with the DGS and the Graduate Coordinator.

Students should submit their Petitions to Take the General Examination six months prior to the examination period they anticipate taking their general examination. For the winter examination period (January 21-February 6, 2023), students should submit their petitions no later than September 30, 2022.  For the spring examination period (April 17-May 5, 202), students should submit their petitions no later than November 1, 2022. For the fall 2023 examination period (August 30-September 16, 2023), petitions should be submitted no later than April 1, 2023.