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Qualifying Exam

Ed.D. Qualifying Exams

(Updated 17 September 2009)


Qualifying Exam for the Doctor of Education?

The Qualifying Examination is a comprehensive examination that the student takes at, or near, the conclusion of his or her coursework. Successful completion of the Qualifying Examination permits the student to advance to candidacy in the doctoral program and begin the dissertation phase of his or her program.Comprehensive Exam

When does one schedule qualifying exams?

Normally, doctoral students plan to take their qualifying exams after they have completed their coursework, but prior to starting their dissertation.

How far in advance must they be scheduled?

One’s qualifying examination should be scheduled by the student early enough to give the department chair adequate time to construct the exam. Two to three weeks is generally sufficient.

With whom does one schedule qualifying exams?

The student will determine, with the department chair, during which quarter he or she will take the exam and they will select a range of potential dates.  However the date and time is normally worked out with the department secretary (951-785-2074), based on when the testing room is open and what time is best for the student and the department.

What does the exam cover?

Exam items will assess the student’s fluency in at least some of the four core areas of the degree program (see additional information below), and the student and the department chair will collaborate on identifying four areas of the candidate’s special expertise for which additional exam items may be developed. However, the candidate should remember that the exam may address any broad area or theory that the candidate would have studied in his/her coursework.

How long do the exams take?

There are three days of exams with five hours of writing each day. Students will respond to two exam items on day one, two exam items on day two, and one complex item on day three.

The student has one calendar week (Mon – Fri) in which to complete the exam. The most common sequence is Monday, Wednesday, & Thursday or Tuesday, Thursday, & Friday. Many students find it helpful to take a one-day break between the first and second days of examination to regroup and study.

Are the exams hand-written or taken on a computer?

A computer and printer are supplied by the School of Education.

Testing Conditions: May I take a break during the exam?

The student is allowed to bring food and drink into the testing environment. There are no scheduled breaks; however the student may use the restroom as needed.

How does one prepare for the exam?

The qualifying examination is an assessment of the student’s ability to analyze, synthesize, evaluate, and apply the theoretical and practical knowledge acquired during his or her graduate program of study.

The student will be given two questions to address on day one and on day two of the examination (four items in two days). Students will be directed to answer specific questions in some cases and may be given a choice of questions in others. The examination item on day three usually involves a case study requiring the student’s analysis of multiple factors.

Students should review the four core areas (see description below) and work with the department chair to identify four areas in which they have special expertise based on specialization and elective courses taken. Remember, however, that the exam may address any broad area or theory that the candidate has studied in his/her program.

This exam is not an opinion survey, nor is it constructed to be like a job interview. One major function is to determine whether the theory and research that has been studied in class has become an integral part of the thinking of the student. (In other words, are you responding to the exam items differently, and in a more nuanced manner, than we would expect a practitioner who has not completed the program?) Students who pass the exam will have fluently cited and referred to key theorists and researchers in support of their responses. Thus, student answers should liberally cite relevant scholars and theories applicable to the topics.

  • The team that scores the exam will seek evidence that the student has:

  • Answered all relevant components of each exam item

  • Not digressed from the exam item.

  • Provided a response that is coherent and practicable.

  • Provided a response that is not based merely on what the student may have done or seen in past practice.

  • Provided a response that is informed by current theory and research, with appropriate references to the literature and research.


Department of Administration & Leadership

Qualifying Examination Core Study Areas

  1. Review the various models of leadership which you have studied in your reading and coursework. Evaluate them. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each approach?  What do you consider to be the ideal (or best) model of leadership, and what are its theoretical and/or research bases? How do nature, nurture, character, personality, culture, circumstances, and followers influence the leader and his or her likelihood of success?

  2. What are the moral dimensions of leadership?  Is leadership essentially an amoral strategy that can be used in the service of either good or evil causes, or is leadership an act with inherently moral dimensions? Should the leader be an agent for morality above all other organizational aims, or is this too idealistic a position for the real-world workplace? What are the various sources or types of power and motivation? How may each be used or abused? Who are the main theorists in this area of study?

  3. Examine and illustrate the concepts of leadership and management in an organization.  Compare and contrast their similarities and differences. Describe the respective roles of leaders and managers, and explain the value of each role to an organization. Can both roles be taught with equal facility? Why is it said that many organizations are over-managed and under-led? Who are the main theorists in this area of study?

  4. Change and continuity are important themes in every organizational system.  What types of change might leaders consider? What might prompt the need for change in a school setting? Review the problems, obstacles, methodologies and strategies which one might utilize in implementing change in an educational setting. What are some of the common reasons why change initiatives fail? What are the essentials for successful change in today’s diverse educational climate?


Department of Administration & Leadership

Books & Theorists With Which the Candidate Should Be Familiar

Degree and credential candidates enrolled in the Ed.S. and Ed.D. programs should be conversant with the following theorists and books. Many of them will be addressed in classes, but not necessarily all of them. It is important for the candidate to be knowledgeable of each of these prior to scheduling and taking the qualifying examination.


Bolman, Lee G., & Terrence E. Deal. (2003) Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership. San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass. ISBN 0-7879-6427-1

* Buckingham, Marcus.  (2005).  The One Thing You Need to Know.  New York, New York:  Free Press.  ISBN 0-7432-6165-8

* Covey, Stephen. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Covey, Stephen.  The Eighth Habit.

Hackman, Richard J.  (2002)  Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances. Boston, MA:  Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. ISBN 1-57851-333-2

Heifetz, Ronald A. (1994) Leadership Without Easy Answers. Cambridge, MA:  The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN  0-674-51858-6

* Kotter, John P.  (1996).  Leading Change.  Boston, MA:  Harvard Business School Press.ISBN 978-0-78584-747-4

Kouzes, James M. & Barry Z. Posner.  (2002).  The Leadership Challenge.  San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass.  ISBN 0-7879-6833-1

Pojman, Louis P.  (2006)  Ethics:  Discovering Right & Wrong, 5th edition.  Belmont, CA:  Thompson Wadsworth. ISBN 978-0-534-61936-7

* Sergiovanni, Thomas J.  (1999).  Rethinking Leadership.  Arlington Heights, Illinois:  SkyLight Training and Publishing Inc.  ISBN  1-57517-148-1

* Proverbs, Ecclesiastes & Luke.  In a Bible translation of your choice.

*   Signifies books that are on the M.A. Reading List.


In addition to the books listed above, students should have read some articles or chapters written by the following persons, and should be able to explain the main concept presented by them.

  • Bennis, Warren G.

  • De Pree, Max

  • Drucker, Peter

  • Fullen, Michael G.

  • Greenleaf, Robert

  • Senge, Peter

“Students failing comprehensive exams for a second time are academically disqualified, they are not readmitted to the program, and the Office of Admissions is so notified.” (Graduate Bulletin, p. 35)


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