Preliminary Examination

Goals and Format

The Preliminary Examination (Prelim) assesses your competency in the broad field of statistical science, and preparedness for individual research in statistical science. With agreement of the advisor and Prelim Committee on topic(s), you will make a seminar-style presentation to the Committee, with questions from the Committee on the material presented, and associated material, as well as any other questions on statistics and related topics the Committee members choose.

The Prelim presentation material may comprise review and critique of published research (in one or two papers from the literature), or—more commonly—work you have developed in mentored independent study or as Research Assistant. It is common, but not required, that you present material you have been exploring that is already identified as a likely Ph.D. dissertation research topic.


  • Discuss potential Prelim Exam topics with advisor, and with other professors during your second year in the program.  Many students take STA 993 or STA 994 Independent Study in one or both semesters to develop expertise in an area in preparation for the Prelim.
  • Propose Prelim Committee, which must be approved by the Graduate School at least 30 days prior to the scheduled Prelim Exam (though can be changed arbitrarily, with approval, once established). You should aim to have the initial Committee and named chair/Prelim advisor, approved by the end of February, and schedule the exam in early May. The proposed Committee must follow these Graduate School and departmental regulations on Committee membership for what will become the Ph.D. Dissertation Committee following a successful Prelim.
  • Take Prelim Exam. Many students take the Prelim Exam in the summer session after the second year. In some cases the Prelim can be deferred until fall semester of the third year. The Prelim Exam must be passed by the end of the third year.