C.  Examinations

Before formal admittance to candidacy all students must satisfy second language proficiency requirements, and must pass a comprehensive examination with written and oral parts in both the major and minor fields of study. A final oral examination is required in defense of the dissertation.

C1. Second Language Proficiency
Before taking the Comprehensive Examination, all students must demonstrate significant oral and literacy skills in using one language other than English. Such skills may be demonstrated in one or more of the following ways:

  • successful completion of a secondary or post-secondary degree in a second language at an institution where that language is the native language of instruction;
  • for a language utilizing the Roman alphabet, scoring at the Intermediate Mid level of the ACTFL/ETS Proficiency Guidelines for speaking and reading;
  • for a language using a writing system other than the Roman alphabet, scoring at the Intermediate Mid level of the ACTFL/ETS Proficiency Guidelines for speaking and the Novice High level of the ACTFL/ETS Proficiency Guidelines for reading;
  • completing 24 units in one language; the last course in the sequence must have been taken within the last 5 years, and the student must have received a grade of A or B for the course;
  • completing 24 units in a combination of two or more languages, with a minimum of 16 hours in one language; the last language course must have been taken within the last 5 years, and the student must have received a grade of A or B for the course;
  • within the last five years, completing with a grade of A or B an upper-level (300 or above, and beyond the 4th semester/intermediate level) course conducted in another language, as attested by the course instructor, or
  • being a native speaker of and literate in one or more languages other than English.

Students who are likely to seek positions in teaching or directing the teaching of a language after completion of the doctorate should demonstrate proficiency in that language at the level of Superior on the ACTFL/ETS scale or the equivalent for the commonly taught Romance and Germanic languages. Students working with Slavic languages, the less commonly taught Asian and African languages, or Native American languages should rate a minimum of Advanced on the ACTFL/ETS scale or the equivalent.

C2. Qualifying Exercise
The nature of the qualifying exercise is determined by the SLAT Executive Council and may be revised at the discretion of that committee. The qualifying committee will include at least one member of the Executive Council.

C2a:  Purpose
The purpose of SLAT’s qualifying exercise, within the qualifying examination policy of the Graduate College, is to determine each student’s qualification for the SLAT doctoral program and to assist in planning each student’s program.

C2b:  Timing
Each student will undertake the qualifying exercise within the first year of enrollment in the program, during the same academic year that the student participates in the SLAT Proseminar. The written portion of the qualifying exercise is incorporated into the SLAT Proseminar.

C2c:  Components of the Qualifying Exercise
1) Assessment of first-semester course work. Students’ professors in the first semester will be asked to assess whether or not each student’s general performance in class was appropriate/adequate for a 1st year doctoral student. To this end, instructors will assess students’ oral, written, and on-line participation in class. Instructors will also be asked to assess whether or not each student’s level of acculturation to the current academic setting is sufficient to support success at the doctoral level.

Instructors’ assessments of each student will be summarized in a brief report which will be given to students in the spring semester after it has been approved by the Executive Council.

2) The Proseminar final paper. The final paper for the SLAT Proseminar will include a critical literature review in a SLAT study area, as well as suggestions for further work in the field, such as an experiment that could be done or data that could be collected to advance knowledge in the area under review. The paper will be read by the Proseminar teacher and at least one member of the relevant SLAT curriculum committee. The Proseminar teacher will give a grade to the paper and to the student’s participation in the Proseminar. Subsequently, the relevant SLAT curriculum committee member(s) will do a blind reading of the paper and assign it either a High Pass, a Pass, or a Fail. The second reader will not know the student’s name or original grade until after s/he has assessed the paper. If the two readers agree that performance indicates a pass, no other readers will be used. If the initial readers disagree about the performance, a third reader will evaluate the same paper, also through a blind review.

3) Assessment of student background and required course work. The Graduate Advisor, in consultation with the SLAT Director and the Curriculum Committee Chairs, will work with each student to assess the academic and professional background they bring to the SLAT program, including but not limited to prerequisite course work, and make recommendations for future course work to strengthen any areas of weak preparation. Preliminary assessment of each student’s background will take place early in the fall semester of the first year. Students will be reassessed in the spring, and the Graduate Advisor will make final recommendations regarding course work by the end of the spring semester. Recommendations in this case will have the force of program requirements.

C2d:  Successful Completion of the Qualifying Review
To qualify the student must:

1) be assessed by all first-semester instructors as meeting minimal performance requirements of a 1st-year doctoral student;

2) receive a qualifying Pass from at least 2 readers on the Proseminar paper, and

3) prepare and have accepted a plan to meet any individual requirements imposed as a result of the background assessment. Early in the spring semester, the Graduate Advisor will meet with each student and discuss the outcome of the qualifying exercise. Any area not passed may be satisfied during the following spring semester by completing additional course work in that area, or by other means approved by the SLAT Advisor and the Executive Council in consultation with the student(s) involved.

If a student does not successfully complete the qualifying exercise as defined in this section by the end of the first year in the program, the SLAT faculty may recommend that the Dean of the Graduate College drop the student from the SLAT Program.

C2d.  Responsibility for Questions and Grading
A SLAT Senior Program Coordinator, under the guidance of the Graduate Advisor, will be responsible for coordinating the first phase of the Qualifying exercise. The Program Coordinator will be responsible for collecting the assessments of 1st-semester course work. The Graduate Advisor will coordinate the blind readings of the Proseminar papers, and prepare the final report of each student’s overall performance.


C3. Comprehensive Examination
a. Summary Purpose

Both the written and oral portions of the Comprehensive Examination for the Ph.D. Program in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching have a three-fold purpose: to determine students’ (1) competence in their major and minor areas of specialization; (2) ability to relate the interdisciplinary core of SLAT to their areas of specialization; and (3) readiness to undertake dissertation research. Specific exam questions will address all of these areas.

b. Structure


The comprehensive exam is administered in two parts, a written and an oral exam, by a committee of 4-5 UA faculty. The chair of the exam and at least two other members must be SLAT faculty members. At least 3 members of the committee must be tenured/tenure-track or the equivalent.  For a description of the different SLAT Faculty Affiliations and individual Faculty Status, please click here.   The Committee Chair must be physically present for the oral exam, and no more that 1 committee member may “Skype” into  or otherwise electronically participate in the exam.


The written exam takes seven days to complete, divided into five days for the major and two days for the minor. The oral exam lasts 2-3 hours. Students who pass the written portion of the exam may take the oral portion. Students who fail the written exam may ask the exam chair for approval to make a second attempt to pass a written exam, and may do so if approved by the exam chair and the SLAT director. Students who pass the written exam and fail the oral exam may ask the exam chair for recommendation to attempt a second oral exam, and may do so if approved by the examining committee, the SLAT program, and the Graduate College. Students are notified of the results of the comprehensive exam immediately after completing the oral exam.

c. Timing

The Comprehensive Examination is to be completed within seven semesters of enrollment in the program. Any exceptions must be requested in writing and approved by the SLAT program director, acting for the Executive Council. Students must have completed all required course work prior to taking the exam, or be in their last semester of classes. The language proficiency requirement must also be completed before the Comprehensive Examination is scheduled.

As soon as possible, but no later than the semester before the Comprehensive Examination is to be taken, the candidate should have the SLAT MAP signed by the chair of the appropriate SLAT curriculum subcommittee(s) and the SLAT Advisor. If the minor is outside SLAT, the candidate is responsible for getting approval for the minor course of study from the program advisor designated by the minor department.  SLAT Minors with external majors must have their minor approved in the GradPath Plan of Study before beginning the written portion of their comprehensive exams.  

No later than 30 days before the exam begins, the student should have the committee in place and a reading list approved by the examining committee. Additionally, the student will submit the Comps Committee Approval form via GradPath. Once the committee has been approved, the student will initiate the Announcement of Comprehensive Oral Exam form via Gradpath. Once the announcement form has completed processing, the student’s oral exam may move forward as scheduled.

On the day of the oral exam, and after the exam has been completed and all members of the committee have voted, the chair of the exam committee will initiate the Results of Oral Comprehensive Examination form via GradPath. Once the form completes processing, and the committee indicates that the student has passed the exams, the student’s record will change to reflect completion of the comprehensive exams.

d. Size and Composition of Comprehensive Examination Committees

Create the exam committee by identifying and contacting four or five appropriate faculty members to serve on the examination committee (two or three in the major and one or two in the minor). Students should prepare a brief statement of interest for each member of the Committee, with a reading list of items they consider important in their area (or what they should have read before taking the exam). The reading list should reflect the purpose for the comprehensive exam as stated in the graduate college guidelines “to test the student’s comprehensive knowledge of the major and minor subjects of study, both in breadth across the general field of study, and in depth within the area of specialization…” and is intended to provide a broad coverage of pertinent professional literature in the area of specialization and the minor.  Typical reading lists would include 20 to 30 items depending upon whether the items are whole books (20 items) or articles (30 items).

1) If the Major (Specialty Area) and Minor are both in SLAT:

a) The SLAT Comprehensive Examination Committee will consist of a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 5 faculty members.

i) The faculty members on the committee will be split between Major (Specialty) and Minor areas.

ii) If there are 5 faculty members, then the composition of the committee will be: 3 for the Major and 2 for the Minor;

iii) If there are 4 faculty members, then the composition of the committee will be: at least 2 will represent the Major, 1 of whom will be the Chair of the committee; and a minimum of 1 will represent the Minor area. The 4th member can represent either the Major or the Minor (or both, if the faculty member can represent both areas). A composition of 3-1 would be appropriate if the minor plays a relatively small role in the student’s research work (e.g., in the student’s dissertation), and 2-2 would be reasonable if the major and minor work had closer to equal roles in the student’s research work. The choice of the 4th member of the committee should be made in consultation with the Chair of the Comprehensive Examination Committee.

2) If the Minor is not in SLAT:

a) If only the Major is in SLAT, then there will be 3 faculty members representing the SLAT Major and either 1 or 2 faculty members representing the Minor, depending on the policy of the minor department.

3) If the student is majoring in an external program and minoring in SLAT: 

a) The student must select one or two SLAT faculty members to represent the minor; at least one of the minor representatives must be a Regular SLAT faculty member.

4) Graduate College Reporter

a) The committee chair serves as the graduate college reporter, initiating the Results of Comprehensive Exam form via Gradpath.

e. Exam Time Limits

1. Length of time for writing the written examination:

a) The student will have seven calendar days to answer the questions if s/he takes both the Major and the Minor written exams at the same time.

b) If the student has an external Minor and does the Minor exam at a different time, then the student will have five calendar days for the written exam in the Major.

c) If the student is completing a SLAT Minor with an external major, they will be two calendar days to complete the written exam in the Minor.

2. Length of time of the oral examination: The oral examination will last no less than 2 and no more than 3 hours. Per Graduate College policy, the oral exam must encompass both major and minor areas of study.

f. Written Comprehensive Exam: Format and Procedures

At least 30 days before the exam, work with your exam committee to find an exam date acceptable to all committee members.

The written comprehensive examination is to be completed within seven days (five days if the student’s minor is outside of SLAT and will be examined separately).  The exam should consist of 50 pages (typed, double-spaced), as described below:

1. SLAT major and minor:

i) If there are 5 faculty members, then the student will answer 5 questions, with 10 pages for each question;

ii) If there are 4 faculty members, then the student will answer 4 questions: The student will write 30 pages for the Major area and 20 for the Minor area;

iii) If there are 3 faculty for the Major area and 1 for the Minor, then there will be 3 questions with 10 pages each for the Major and 1 broad question with 20 pages for the Minor

iv) If there are 2 faculty each for the Major and the Minor, then there will be 2 broad questions with 15 pages each for the Major, and 2 questions with 10 pages each for the Minor

2. SLAT major and outside minor:

The SLAT part of the written examination will be 3 questions and 30 pages.

3.  SLAT minor with external major:

The SLAT minor will consist of one or two questions totaling twenty pages:  ten pages each for two questions, or twenty pages for a single question. 

The chair of the committee is responsible for eliciting and compiling questions from other committee members (both major and minor committees) for the written portion of the exam, taking into account the student’s input. Then the chair will distribute the whole exam to all members of the committee for approval. The chair may also consult with the chair of the curriculum committee(s), if questions arise.

The committee chair will coordinate and administer both parts of the exam. If the minor is outside of SLAT, the chair will request questions from the representatives of the minor department. The minor department is, however, free to determine its own administration procedures and may decide to administer the minor portion of the written exam separately.  If a SLAT minor is majoring in a program with a different comprehensive exam structure, the SLAT minor representative may administer the written portion of the minor exam separately.  

The exam is sent electronically to the student at an agreed-upon date and time by the exam chair, with a cc to the SLAT office. The candidate may use books and notes but may not discuss the questions with anyone. If procedural questions arise, the candidate should address these to the chair of the committee, a SLAT Program Coordinator, or to the SLAT Chair.

At the date and time when the exam is due, all parts of the exam should be sent electronically to all members of the examination committee, with a CC to the SLAT office. Should any committee member require a printed version of the exam, the student will also provide that member with hard copy on the day the exam is due.

g. Oral Comprehensive Examination: Format and Procedures

Students are responsible for completion of UA’s Comprehensive Committee Approval and Announcement of Oral Comprehensive Exam forms. This involves:

1) Coordinating with the exam chair, exam committee and the SLAT office to schedule the oral exam;

2) Completing and initiating routing of the Comps Committee Approval form via GradPath, at least 30 days before the exam is to take place;

3) Completing and initiating routing of the Announcement of Oral Comprehensive Exam form via GradPath, at least 10 days before the exam.

Both the major and minor areas of the written examination must be passed before the oral examination is scheduled. At the student’s request, SLAT staff will schedule a room for the exam. The exam instructions are available on the Graduate Student Academic Services website. The exam chair will either download the exam instructions from the website or ask the student to do so. The chair will also initiate the Results of Comprehensive Exam form via GradPath, once the student has completed the oral exam.

The oral portion of the comprehensive examination is to be scheduled no sooner than three weeks and no later than six months after the completion of the written portion. The oral examination lasts a minimum of two hours but no longer than three. Committee members usually base their questions on the written portions of the exam and on the reading lists (again keeping in mind the purposes of the comprehensive exam listed above). No notes or reference materials are permitted during the oral comprehensive exam unless expressly authorized by all members of the comprehensive committee. The committee chair will record the results of the exam, report the results via GradPath, and generally ensure that the student is treated fairly and that all Graduate College requirements are met.

h. Evaluation

It is desirable that all members of the comprehensive committee read all parts of the exam. At least, all members of the major committee will read the portion devoted to the major, and both members of the minor committee will read the questions devoted to the minor. Members of the committee will submit their evaluation and recommendation to the chair within two weeks, and the chair will send a written report notifying the candidate of the committee members’ recommendations no later than two days after receipt, with a copy to the SLAT office. Evaluation categories are high pass, pass, low pass, or fail. More than one vote to fail a candidate on either the major or minor parts of the exam constitutes a fail on the exam. The committee can recommend that a student who fails retake a part or all of the written exam. Students who pass the written portion of the exam may take the oral portion. Students are notified of the results of the comprehensive exam immediately after the oral. As specified by the Graduate College, no student will be permitted a second attempt to pass the comprehensive examination except upon recommendation of the examining committee, endorsed by the SLAT Executive Council. A second examination, if approved, may not take place until four months after the date of the first. If the examining committee does not recommend a retake or if a student fails an approved second examination, recommendations will be made to the Dean of the Graduate College that the student be dropped from the SLAT program.

Standards for Grading the Ph.D. Comprehensive Exam in SLAT

Grades of High Pass are viewed as rare. To receive a grade of High Pass on the comprehensive examination the student should provide answers to the questions that:

  • Are well written and contain a clearly defined thesis, a clear exposition, and a cogent conclusion. The language in which the exam is expressed should contain few, if any, minor errors in usage.
  • Are well documented and show skillful use of the relevant literature.
  • Provide a thorough coverage of the material argued in sufficient depth so as to be convincing.
  • Are framed in such a way to demonstrate the student’s command of theory and how it affects the questions posed.
  • Provide an innovative approach to the issues posed in the questions.

To receive a grade of Pass on the Comprehensive Examination, the student should provide answers that:

  • Are well written but may contain some errors in usage but which do not detract substantially from the ability to comprehend the answers.
  • Demonstrate a solid knowledge of the subject matter presented in a thorough exposition of the issues and supported by the skillful use of the relevant literature.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of theoretical constructs and contextual issues.

To receive a grade of Low Pass on the Comprehensive Examination, the student provides answers that:

  • Are argued and written in a way that makes it hard to follow and which may also contain substantial problems of language usage.
  • Provide answers of insufficient depth to answer the question adequately and which contain an inadequate use of the relevant literature.
  • Have little grasp of theory or contextual issues.

Grades of Fail are assigned to exams that:

  • Contain such substantive errors in usage as to lead to the conclusion that the student’s command of language is not commensurate with work at the advanced level.
  • Provide essays that are poorly argued and demonstrate a lack of understanding of the primary texts and of the ability to analyze literary and cultural discourse.
  • Provide no evidence of knowledge of the relevant literature or theoretical constructs and conceptual issues.
  • It doesn’t answer the question as approved by the Faculty member.
C4. Candidacy and the Dissertation Proposal

Upon passing the comprehensive exam, the Graduate Student Academic Services Office will process the students Advancement to Candidacy.  Any applicable advancement fees will be charged at that time.  A student’s status through the University of Arizona Graduate College changes from Doctoral Student to Doctoral Candidate. 

Immediately after advancing to Doctoral Candidacy, students should initiate the Graduate College’s Doctoral Dissertation Committee Appointment form via GradPath. 

Within 6 months of passing the comprehensive exams, students must draft and present a dissertation proposal (full procedure available in the Dissertation section of the Student Handbook). Once the student has successfully completed presentation and revision of the proposal, a copy of the final version of the Dissertation Proposal and the approvals the Dissertation Committee Chair(s) should be submitted to the SLAT Program Office.  The final version and approval(s) may be submitted electronically to the SLAT Program Coordinators or to GIDP-SLAT@email.arizona.edu.  Upon receipt, the SLAT office will generate and submit a Dissertation Prospectus form through GradPath. Although students advance to Doctoral Candidacy after passing their comprehensive exams, the SLAT program considers students as having entered “ABD” (All but Dissertation) status once they have filed their approved Dissertation Proposal.

C5. Final Oral Examination
The Final Oral Examination is a defense of the penultimate draft of the dissertation. It will include a presentation on the topic of the dissertation, with an optional brief question and answer session, open to the public. The public presentation is followed by a closed session oral examination by members of the Dissertation Committee. The Chair of the Dissertation Committee is also the Chair of the Final Oral Examination Committee, and has the responsibility for reporting the results of the examination to the Graduate College. Three grades are possible on the Final Oral Examination: (1) unconditional pass, (2) pass with revisions required, (3) fail. In case (2), the committee must specify in writing what revisions are necessary, whether the revisions are “major” or “minor,” and by what date they must be completed. The committee will also specify whether the completed revisions must be approved by the entire committee or only by the Chair. Usually only a major revision requires the full committee’s approval.

In order to defend the dissertation, a student must first work with the dissertation committee to settle on a day and time for the exam. The Chair of the Dissertation Committee must be physically present for the defense, and no more than 1 member of the committee may “Skype into” or otherwise participate electronically in the oral defense.  Once the exam schedule has been finalized, the student may request that the SLAT office secure a room for the exam, or secure a room on his/her own. Only after a date, time, and room has been determines may the student schedule the defense with the Graduate College. To schedule the exam, the student initiates via GradPath the Announcement of the Final Oral Exam form, at least ten (10) working days before the date of the exam.