PhD Qualifying Examination

Each PhD student will take the PhD qualifying examination. The purpose of the PhD qualifying examination is to confirm that the student has sufficient depth of knowledge in the major field, and sufficient research ability, to successfully complete the PhD program. Successful completion of the PhD qualifying examination is a condition of continued registration in the PhD program. Students who do not successfully complete the PhD qualifying examination will have their registration terminated.


Please note the relevant deadlines for completion of the PhD qualifying examination:

  • September starters must complete the PhD qualifying examination by the following May/June.
  • January starters must complete the PhD qualifying examination by the following September/October.

Material Covered

Each group will set its own PhD qualifying examinations to focus on areas relevant to the field and relevant to assessing the student’s depth of preparation and research ability. The examinations will be at a third-year undergraduate to introductory graduate level.

Pre-Examination Procedures

The ECE Graduate Office will prepare an exam file for each student who is due to complete the PhD qualifying examination. The file will include the following documents:

  • undergraduate and graduate transcripts;
  • PhD background statement;
  • curriculum vitae;
  • supervisor’s confidential report including, where applicable, an appraisal of the student’s MASc thesis and any other relevant work such as published papers;
  • examination report form, to be completed by the committee.

The files will be forwarded to the group chair. After receiving the exam files, the group chair will be ultimately responsible for the selection of professors to serve on the exam committees, the scheduling of exams, informing examiners and students of the exam schedule, and distributing exam files to the examiners.

Students are encouraged to be proactive about discussing with their supervisor the details of how qualifying examinations will be organized in their group.

Examination Format

The following format will be used by all of the groups:

  • One committee of four professors examines the student in an oral examination that typically lasts two hours; or two committees of two professors examine the student in two oral examinations that typically last one hour each.
  • The research supervisor(s) will not participate in the oral examinations, but may be present as an observer.
  • In order to ensure uniform Department-wide standards, at least one of the four examining professors will be from outside the student’s group.
  • Each professor must hold an appropriate graduate faculty membership (GFM) at the University of Toronto. To serve on this committee the professor must typically hold a full, associate (unrestricted), or emeritus GFM; an associate member with restricted duties can serve only if their graduate faculty membership specifically includes the privilege to serve as a member of a doctoral thesis committee.


After the oral examinations, the research supervisor and the four examiners will discuss to decide whether the student passes or fails the PhD qualifying examination. Discussion and decision will be based on the student’s performance in the oral examinations, their background statement, any published papers, and the supervisor’s confidential report. Following the discussion, the committee will vote on the outcome. If there is more than one supervisor, only the principal supervisor will vote. There are three possible outcomes:

  • The student passes the examination and continues in the PhD program if there is not more than one negative vote or abstention. Passing may be conditional on requirements specified by the examination committee.
  • The student is rejected if there are more than two negative votes or abstentions. In such an event, the student will be required to withdraw from the PhD program by the end of the term.
  • If there are exactly two negative votes or abstentions, the student will go to an augmented examination. The Associate Chair, Graduate Studies, will select two additional professors who will examine the student in a one-hour oral examination to take place within one month of the initial PhD qualifying examination. One of the two new examining professors will be from outside the student’s group. After the second examination, the candidate passes if there are not more than two negative votes or abstentions among the augmented committee.

All five votes must be recorded on the PhD Qualifying Examination Report and submitted to the ECE Graduate Office within one week of the exam’s completion. The group chair is responsible for ensuring that the ECE Graduate Office is notified of the outcome of all PhD qualifying examinations by the appropriate deadline.

The ECE Graduate Office will notify students of the outcome of the PhD qualifying examination in writing.