Oral Prelim Exam and Dissertation Proposal Defense

The Oral Prelim is usually a defense and discussion of the dissertation proposal, although some examiners may want to revisit issues from the written prelims for more elaboration. Therefore a well-developed proposal should be circulated to the primary advisor and other members of the Oral Prelim committee well before the scheduled date of the prelim. Many advisors expect to see and comment on several drafts of the proposal prior to the Oral, so these expectations should be discussed between student and advisor in advance of completion of written prelims. Students must pass all written prelim exams before taking the oral preliminary exam. All language requirements must also be fulfilled before completing the oral prelim exam.

The oral prelim is a two-hour discussion. The prelim oral exam committee will ordinarily be composed of at least one member of each of the student's three written prelim exam committees. It should include the dissertation advisor. The committee for the Oral Prelim must consist of at least four voting members, at least three of whom (including the chair) must be members of the Graduate Faculty and at least two of whom must also be tenured at UIUC. Departments may request the Graduate College approve the inclusion of non-Graduate Faculty members. By departmental rules, the committee must include  at least one examiner from each of the written prelims. 

During the oral prelim, the student is normally asked to leave the room at the beginning of the exam so examiners can confer about (among other things) the proposal, the need to discuss written prelims, and the order in which they will question the student and willingness to have others chime in during their “time” with related questions. The student is then usually invited to return and initiates discussion by briefly describing the topic and significance of the proposed dissertation, their work on the topic so far, and their own assessments of its strengths and weaknesses. Examiners ask questions in sequence, usually ending with the advisor/chair of the exam.  At the end of the two hours the student is asked to leave the room again so the examiners can confer on the result.  The result is conveyed orally to the student immediately, and in writing on the forms provided by the graduate secretary.

The oral prelim exam must be scheduled at least three weeks in advance and cannot be approved until after the final written exam is passed. But you should begin planning the date with examiners well in advance. Students should submit the “Request for Appointment of  Preliminary/Doctoral Examination Committee” form to the Graduate Secretary, who  needs at least three weeks to order paperwork in advance of an oral prelim date, so please plan accordingly.

Once the oral prelim is passed, students will construct a dissertation committee, which must be formally constituted within a year. The dissertation committee may contain the same members as the oral prelim committee, but students may wish to alter the composition of the committee. Students constructing a dissertation committee must submit the form, "Department of History Doctoral Dissertation Committee Approval." (See Departmental Forms)