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PhD Qualifying Examination

The PhD Qualifying Examination (QEP) is given every year during August, approximately one week prior to the start of Fall semester. This exam is given only once per year.

A student who passes the QEP is eligible for an MS degree in Statistics, pending the completion of the appropriate coursework. See the previous chapter for more details.

Parts, Scope and Time Allowed

The QEP tests material covered during the First-Year core of the PhD program. This core corresponds to STAT6420, STAT 8260, STAT 6810 and STAT 6820. However, the exam does not have separate sections for each course’s material, but rather it tests this core material in a comprehensive way that will require students to synthesize  material from all four courses. If you are missing any part of the First-Year core in your previous coursework, youwill be required to pass the QEP before continuing in the PhD program.

The exam will have two separate parts:

  • Statistical Theory. This is an “in-class” exam which the students have 6 hours to complete. During that time, you may refer to books and notes but will not have access to a computer or the Internet. At the discretion of the Examination Committee, the Theory portion may include a take-come component.
  • Applied Statistics and Data Analysis. This is a “take-home” exam which you have 4 days to complete. You will be presented with 2 or 3 problems, each with a corresponding data set, from which you must choose 1 problem to solve. The questions are open-ended, requiring you to analyze the data in some appropriate way and draw conclusions about the scientific question(s) of interest. You will hand in a written report detailing the decision you made along the way (for example, which analyses you chose and why), the conclusions you drew, and so forth. You will be evaluated on both the quality of the analysis (the choices you made and how well you justified them) and of the written report (organization, etc.; English language usage specifically doesn’t need to be a criterion, although reports need to be understandable).

Typically, the statistical theory portion of the exam is given on a Monday, and the applied statistics/data analysis portion is made available on the same day, to be turned in on the Friday of the same week.


Each part of your QEP is graded by at least two members of the committee that set the exam. The resulting scores are averaged to determine your score on each part. A pass/fail grade is then determined for each part of the exam. There is no differentiation of different levels of passing (for example, pass at the MS level, or pass at the PhD level). You must pass both parts of the exam to continue in the PhD program.

Rules for Taking and Re-Taking

For your initial attempt, you must take both parts of the QEP. If you do not pass both parts on your initial attempt, you may retake the part or parts of the exam you failed the following August. More than two attempts at the exam will not be allowed.

Faculty Responsibilities

Two faculty committees, one for each part of the exam (stat theory and applied stats/data analysis), have responsibility for setting the exam and administering it. Each of these committees have 4 members, including at least one person who has recently taught one of the first year PhD core courses, and at least one person who has not recently taught one of the first year PhD core courses. Questions for the exam are solicited from the membership of these exam committees as well as the broader faculty, who are encouraged, but not required, to contribute. The committees are responsible for ensuring that the exam is appropriate and reasonably consistent from year to year. They also have the responsibility for grading the exams and making pass/fail recommendations to the entire Graduate Faculty of the Department, who then vote on the results. These committees also have responsibility for the QEM.

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