The general examination is designed to ascertain the student's general knowledge of the subject, acquaintance with scholarly methods of research, and ability to organize and present material. Students who pass the general examination in their department advance to Ph.D. candidacy. The general examination may consist of several parts, some testing comprehension of the field and others assessing potential for original research. Advancement to post-generals candidacy for the Ph.D. requires passage of all parts of the general examination in addition to all other departmental requirements. The examination is comprehensive and is not restricted to the content of graduate courses. In most programs, students are not normally readmitted to a third year (fifth term) of graduate study unless they have sustained the general examination and unless they have first fulfilled the residence requirement as well as any departmental requirements. At the discretion of the department, the elements of the general examination may be written, oral, or both.
Departments may elect to administer the examination to a student within 10 consecutive days during one of the three examination periods, or, with the approval of the Graduate School, in two or more major parts during different examination periods. (In such cases only the final cumulative grade is reported.) In either case, the examination is held during a stated twenty-one-day period in October or January, or during a five-week period in April and May. No department is required to give the examination in more than two of the three examination periods per year.
General Examination Dates
Academic Year 2013-14
September 30 – October 20, 2013
January 6 - January 25, 2014
April 21 - May 24, 2014
Graduate students who withdraw from the University in good standing before passing the general examination (and are therefore not enrolled) may present themselves for the examination with the approval of the dean on the advice of the department, provided they have met the residence and any departmental requirements.
The examination committee consists of three or more members, all of whom should hold the rank of assistant professor or higher and at least two of whom should normally be on the faculty of Princeton University. Any external examiners must have standing in the scholarly community comparable to committee members of the Princeton faculty. Any proposed external examiners must be approved by the Graduate School prior to the examination date.
Students who fail the general examination a first time may on the recommendation of the department stand for reexamination within a year. Students who fail the general examination a second and final time have their Ph.D. candidacy and enrollment terminated at the first of the month following that in which the examination was retaken.
Master of Arts Degree
The Master of Arts degree is earned incidentally by Ph.D. students in the humanities (Master of Fine Arts in music composition), social sciences, natural sciences, and engineering who demonstrate substantial mastery in the field, as defined specifically by the individual department or program, for example by a particular level of achievement in a set of courses and sustaining the comprehensive or general part of the general examination when appropriate.
Termination of degree candidacy at the master’s level shall stand without further appeal unless new evidence of scholarly promise or capacity is provided by the student’s subsequent professional achievement as shown by scholarly publication. In the latter event, a recommendation by the department may be made to the dean of the Graduate School that a student be readmitted to degree candidacy for the Ph.D. The dean's decision in such matters is final.