The Specialty Exam

The specialty exam is an oral exam in the student's intended research area and is conducted by a specialty exam committee made up of three faculty members (usually all in the department), including a prospective dissertation advisor. Starting soon after the completion of the qualifying exams, the better part of a year is typically devoted to preparing for and then taking the specialty exam.

The prospective advisor prepares a syllabus; in addition to listing the exam topics and recommended sources, this document sets a target completion date and names the exam committee. Early in the exam preparation process, the graduate committee is informed of the arrangements and the syllabus is filed in the student's departmental file. The exam committee (especially the advisor) assists the student in preparing for the exam.

The advisor chairs the exam, which is conducted by the exam committee and is open to attendance by all mathematics faculty members and graduate students. The advisor should ensure that an announcement is sent to the entire department at least a week in advance.The exam committee meets privately immediately after the exam to determine the outcome, which can be Pass with Distinction, Pass, Low Pass, or Fail. A student may not take the specialty exam more than twice. The second attempt, if needed, must be scheduled within one semester of the first.

Soon after passing the specialty exam, if not earlier, the student starts working with a thesis advisor. A student who wishes to change thesis advisors may do so at any time; all that is required is the consent of the new advisor. The new advisor may require the student to retake the specialty exam.