Student Handbook: Qualifying Exam

Qualifying Exam (Handbook Home)

The basic description of the qualifying exam is on the program’s web page.

Semesters offered

Students must take the qualifying exam the semester immediately following the completion of core classes. Students who do not pass the entire qualifying exam on the first attempt, will be offered a second and final attempt the following semester. Depending on when the first attempt occurred, this final attempt may be in the summer.

Students who do not qualify to take the exam when their cohort takes the exam will take the exam the semester after they finish their core course work.


The examination questions will be prepared by the faculty who teach, or have taught, DPA core or research courses in cooperation with the DPA director who will assemble the questions.

Content and Format

The exam will consist of both a written and a verbal component.  Students will need to answer three questions on the written portion. Students will have four weeks to complete their responses.  Responses to the each question should be no more than fifteen pages excluding title and reference pages.  Papers should have one inch margins, be double spaced and use 12 point font.  Pages should be numbered.

Since our exam is designed to test over the content of the core courses, we will have a one question from public management (652) and public policy (653).  A third question will come from research design (DPA 654) and research methods (DPA 655 and 656) classes.  (DPA 651 is considered an overview and introduction so won’t have a question of its own.)

While allowing the students to demonstrate their understanding of each core course material, each question would also ask for integration across the core classes and would include a research component.  These last two elements would differentiate the qualifying exam questions from the kind of question asked in an exam in each class.

You are not allowed to discuss this exam with other people until the exam process is complete; however, you are allowed to ask clarifying questions.

Questions from previous exams can be seen in here.

Results for Written Component

The DPA program will strive to provide results to students within three weeks of completion of the exam; however, longer time periods may be necessary depending on faculty schedules and the number of students who take the exam at one time.

All exams will be processed using academic integrity software.

Oral Component

If the written component of the exam is successfully completed for all questions asked, the student will proceed to the oral exam.  The oral portion of the exam will allow the DPA faculty and the student to interact concerning questions not resolved by the written portion.  The oral exam must be completed by the end of the semester in which the written exam was administered.

Exam Grading 

Exams will be evaluated with “High Pass,” “Pass,” or “Fail.”  All questions must be graded with at least “pass” for the student to pass the written and the oral exam.  Decisions in the committee shall be decided by majority vote.

Grades of Unsatisfactory 

Students who do not pass the all of the questions in the written comprehensive exam may retake the exam.  Students who must retake the exam will have their exams scheduled for the following semester. New questions over the area(s) which were not successfully passed on the first try will constitute the second exam.  If the exam is not passed on the second try, the student will not be allowed to continue the program.

Grading Criteria

Program objectives below will be part of the competencies examined in the comprehensive exam process.  Other objectives are developed further in the dissertation process.  The course objectives which follow add more specificity to the program objectives.

Students who complete the new DPA Program should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate the ability to productively employ and integrate the theoretical literature from a range of public affairs disciplines as they apply to issues commonly addressed in public administration and relate public affairs disciplines,
  2. Demonstrate the ability to draw connections between that theoretical literature and real world problems in public management and public policy,
  3. Demonstrate substantial competency in the core subject matter of the student’s area of concentration in either public management or public policy,
  4. Demonstrate the capacity to critically approach the literature in a range of public affairs disciplines

652 – Public Management

See course objectives.

653 – Public Policy

See course objectives.

654 – Research Design

See course objectives.

655 – Qualitative Research Methods

See course objectives.

656 – Quantitative Research Methods

See course objectives.