General Examination

Format and Expectations

The General Examination is intended to measure the breadth and depth of the student’s theoretical understanding of the main fields of geography and of a particular set of sub-fields.  It ensures that students possess adequate familiarity with their areas of subdisciplinary focus prior to the dissertation research.  The General Examination consists of oral and written portions.

Prior to the oral portion of the General Examination, the student takes a written examination in fields designated by the Supervisory Committee. The length, specificity and type of written examination are generally left to the discretion of the Committee, though all Committees aim to write questions probing for both breadth and depth. Commonly, students will take a written exam consisting of three questions, each of which is focused on a particular subdisciplinary area.  The answers to these questions are circulated to the Supervisory Committee prior to the oral portion of the exam.

The oral portion of the General Examination may require the student to amplify upon, clarify or defend answers given on the written part, and may also include more general questions about the student’s field of study.

If the student passes the General Examination, the signed warrant should be placed in the student’s permanent file, and the faculty adviser should report the exam outcome to the Geography Graduate Program Assistant (GPA), who must convey it to the Graduate School by the last day of Final Examinations for that quarter in order for the student to receive candidacy for that quarter. (Otherwise, candidacy is awarded the following quarter, requiring student registration.)

If the student does not pass the General Examination, the Supervisory Committee may allow the student to be re-examined after a further period of study.  In this case, the Supervisory Committee determines the nature of the period of further study, and is responsible for scheduling another examination, using the procedures described below. If the Committee is unwilling to allow a re-examination, the student’s continuation in the program is contingent upon the constitution of a new committee.  Given the difficulty of accomplishing this, the student will likely be advised to withdraw from the program.


A General Examination may be scheduled if:

  1. The student has completed 60 credits (some of these credits may be taken the same quarter of the exam); At least 30 of those credits must be from the UW and must meet the following requirements:

    1. Minimum 18 credits of coursework at the 500 level
    2. Minimum 18 numerically graded UW credits of approved 400 and 500 level course work. Credits may be counted from the same quarter of the exam, even though they are not completed. (The 18 credits at the 500 level may overlap with the 18 numerically graded credits.)
  2. The Preliminary Review has been completed;
  3. All members of the supervisory committee agree that the student’s background of study and preparation is sufficient and have approved the student to schedule a General Examination; and
  4. The student is enrolled in at least 2 credits during the quarter the exam is scheduled.

With department approval, 30 credits from an appropriate master’s degree from an accredited institution may be applied toward the 60 credits needed for the General Exam. If the master’s degree is from the Department of Geography, more than 30 course work credits may be allowed. Credits from the master’s degree count toward the total credit count and do not count toward the requirements listed above.

The Graduate School Representative must be physically present at the oral examination. To schedule a General Examination, the student must first establish the Supervisory Committee. The student must then arrange day, time, and location of exam in consultation with members of the committee. This can be scheduled via the MyGrad program on the Graduate School's website.

The student’s transcript will be evaluated by the Graduate School to ensure that requirements have been met. If there is a problem or question with an evaluation, the department will be notified. The General Examination Warrant will be printed by the Advising Office and given to your Committee Chair prior to the examination.

For a quorum to exist at the exam, the Supervisory Committee Chair, the GSR and two other committee members must be present. For more information, see the Graduate School's Memo 13: Supervisory Committee for Graduate Students.

The student becomes a doctoral candidate (Ph.C.) after successful completion of the General Examination.