Preliminary Exam


While in the first two years of study the focus is on breadth of experience in theory and in practice, which includes completing the Language Requirements, in the third year the Preliminary Exam is designed to synthesize your research and focus your work on more specific areas of study. This necessitates limiting outside obligations, curricular and co-curricular explorations and interests outside the main areas of focus in order to prepare the portfolio and exam lists, and to anticipate the preparation of the Prospectus for the Dissertation.

Committees for Preliminary Exams and Dissertation Defense

Every incoming student is required to identify a main advisor and select a chair of their doctoral committee at the beginning of the spring semester of their second year in residence. The student and their chair will jointly file the names of the doctoral committee with the DGS and Graduate School no later than the fall semester of the third year. Per Graduate School guidelines, committees must be a minimum of four members of the graduate faculty, there must always be at least two members from the CMAC faculty, at least three members from the student’s primary research field/area, and one Minor Area Representative (MAR) on the student’s committee. The committee approval form must be approved by the Graduate School at least 30 days prior to the first day of the preliminary exam. A majority of the committee must be physically present with the student for the examination, the chair MUST always be physically present for the examination. The Graduate School has an official form that you must complete and turn into the program for processing.


The preliminary exam should be scheduled by October 15 of the third year to ensure your committee members can be present at the time of the oral exam. Exams in the CMAC program are typically held early in the 6th semester, this allows time after the prospectus proposal to workshop the dissertation topic as needed. Please see the Preliminary Exam Timetable at the end of this section for details on timing.

The preliminary exam is taken after the completion of all coursework and language requirements. It must be taken in the sixth semester of residence or, at the latest, at the very beginning of the seventh semester of residence. Graduate School regulations are specific in the matter of timing of the preliminary exam: ordinarily, a student registered for full-time study should pass the preliminary exam by the end of the third year or sixth semester. A student who has not passed the exam by this time must request an extension in writing from the program DGS and the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the Graduate School. The student should explain the reason(s) for the delay and set a date for the exam within the first semester of the 4th year (seventh semester). Except under highly unusual circumstances, extensions will not be granted beyond the first semester of the 4th year.

Credit is not generally allowed for graduate courses or foreign language exams that are more than six years old at the date of the preliminary exam. Similarly, credit will not be allowed for a preliminary exam that is more than five years old at the date of the final exam or dissertation defense. In cases of exceptional merit, the Dean of the Graduate School may extend these limits. Should either of these limits be exceeded without the Dean’s permission, students must submit to the Dean specific mechanisms for revalidating credits or exams.


The qualifying exam consists of two distinct parts, a written exam and an oral exam.

First, in consultation with the primary advisor and due no later than November 1 of their third year, students will submit an annotated bibliography of a breadth of theoretical, historical, and practice based works and subject areas within the fields of computational media, arts, and cultures (the bibliography must include 20 - 30 theoretical/critical/historical texts and 10 - 15 practice based works, with a minimum of 40 in total and not to exceed 50 in total). Second, due at least one month before the exam, students must submit a draft portfolio of current work relevant to their research and practice, this may also include relevant earlier work that reflects a lineage of practice (the portfolio might include media art, computational projects, analyses of technical processes, etc.). Using the student’s bibliography, subject areas, and portfolio the examination committee will develop prompts and questions for the written exam.

Written Exam: The written exam consists of two (2), open-book/take-home, six-hour sessions over a 48-hour period (two consecutive days); each day will be a six-hour session plus breaks, for a total time of up to 8 hours/day. During the first session, students will answer committee formulated questions addressing the critical topics and themes addressed in the student’s bibliography of readings and works. During the second session, students will respond to questions about their own practice, and in relation to the works of others.

Oral Exam: The second part of the preliminary exam consists of an oral defense at which all committee members should be present; half of the oral exam will focus on the student’s portfolio, and half will focus on the answers given during the written exam. The oral defense must be scheduled within two weeks of the completion of the written exam. The prospectus can be evaluated at this time, or can be scheduled as a separate meeting.

Should the student’s performance be considered unsatisfactory after this exam, they will have failed; CMAC will not grant any student a provisional pass. The student may apply to retake the preliminary exam as provided in the Graduate School regulations.

The Prospectus

The CMAC prospectus is a dissertation project proposal that describes the student’s theoretical investigation and includes the student’s practical work. The student must address how their theoretical investigation and practice are linked, and include a chapter by chapter layout. The prospectus defense is meant to workshop the student’s dissertation proposal with their committee and will include a discussion of future career paths and plans. This written proposal is to be no longer than 14 pages in length. The written prospectus must be submitted to the entire committee at least 1 week prior to the prospectus defense, or 2 weeks earlier if the prospectus defense will take place during the oral exam. If the student chooses to defend the prospectus in a separate meeting it must be conducted no later than 4 weeks after the oral exam.

Once the student has defended the dissertation prospectus, the committee will determine whether the student is prepared to proceed to the dissertation stage. If at least two members of the committee feel that the student is unprepared to proceed, the dissertation prospectus will be revised in consultation with the committee and will be resubmitted. the student will have up to 8 weeks to make any suggested changes to the prospectus, perhaps developing a proof of concept (if requested by the committee). A second prospectus defense, which should include all committee members, must take place on or before May 1 of the third year.

If for a second time, more than one member of the committee feels the candidate does not have a viable dissertation project, the candidate will be deemed not to have qualified for the dissertation stage. It is understood, however, that such disqualification must center on the dissertation prospectus.

Preliminary Exam Timetable

August - October 1, 3rd Year Committee Formation Establish a preliminary exam committee and complete form to submit to DGSA in CMAC (no later than October 1). This includes declaring a major and minor area of focus.
August - October 1, 3rd Year Establish Exam Date Establish written and oral exam dates (your entire committee is expected to meet in person for the oral exam). Preliminary exams typically take place during the spring semester, but MUST happen within the third year. The written and oral exam MUST happen within two weeks of one another. please consult with the CMAC DGSA to set up exam dates/times and space.
August - November 1, 3rd Year Annotated Bibliography In consultation with your advisor develop an annotated bibliography of works within the fields of computational media.
4 weeks prior to oral exam Submit Portfolio The portfolio should include current work relevant to student's research and practice. Submit to examination committee.
October 1 - March 31, 3rd Year Written Exam 2 consecutive days (48 hours) of the written portion of the preliminary exam. Exam prompts and questions will be distributed to students by the CMAC DGSA. Must be no more than 2 weeks prior to oral exam.
October 1 - March 31, 3rd Year Oral Exam 2-hour (minimum) session with entire committee to defend written exam responses. Must be no more than 2 weeks after written exam. The prospectus defense may be scheduled at the same time, however please note more than 2 hours may be needed.
October 1 - March 31, 3rd Year Prospectus Submission Submit prospectus to the entire exam committee at least one week prior to the prospectus defense;   submit at least two weeks prior if your prospectus defense is scheduled at the same meeting as your oral defense.
March 31 - April 15, 3rd Year Prospectus Defense 2-hour session with committee to defend dissertation prospectus. If you do not plan to defend your prospectus during the same meeting as your oral exam, then the prospectus defense must be no more than 4 weeks after the oral exam.
May 1, 3rd Year Final Prospectus Submission