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Prospectus for Doctoral Programs in Theology at Boston University School of Theology
(a.k.a. constantly updated, hyperlinked "Red Book")

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4. The Oral Qualifying Examination

4.1. Purpose of the Oral Qualifying Examination

The oral examination in theology is the primary means for the Theology Faculty to assess a candidate’s readiness to proceed to the dissertation. This assessment is made by evaluating a candidate’s competence in his or her specialization (in this case, theology), including competence in the intended area of dissertation research.

Work can be required of the candidate in preparation for the oral examination by the advisor setting up the oral examination, if it is deemed appropriate by the candidate’s advisor.

4.2. Administration of The Oral Qualifying Examination

4.2.1. Conditions for Proceeding to the Oral Qualifying Examination

The oral qualifying examination in theology cannot be taken until passes have been achieved in all other qualifying examinations (see "Results of the Written Qualifying Examinations," section 3.3.7). This includes qualifying examinations in the complementary specialization. The candidate must secure the permission of his or her advisor to proceed to the oral examination.

4.2.2. Timing of the Oral Qualifying Examination

The oral examination must be scheduled as soon as possible after the written qualifying examinations—usually a couple of months later—but in any case before the end of the semester following that in which the last written qualifying examination is successfully completed.

4.2.3. Committee for the Oral Qualifying Examination

The oral examination committee consists of at least two faculty, including the candidate’s advisor, who chairs the committee. The advisor arranges the examination place and time, and selects the other committee members in consultation with the candidate. These faculty will ideally be those anticipated to be involved in reading the candidate’s dissertation, but the advisor may arrange for any member of the Theology Faculty, or another relevant faculty member, to serve as an oral examination committee member.

4.2.4. Results of the Oral Qualifying Examination

The oral qualifying examination is graded with one of the following grades:

  • Pass with distinction, an unusual result, based on a unanimous decision when the work in all qualifying examinations has been of uniformly and exceptionally high standard. The grade of "pass with distinction" cannot be recorded in university transcripts, but will be noted in a special letter to the candidate from the chair of the Theology Faculty, a copy of which will be included in the candidate’s permanent file.
  • Pass, based on a simple majority vote.
  • Fail with opportunity to retake, based on a simple majority vote. This result may be issued if a candidate has a serious but correctable problem with their mastery of the field of theology or with their readiness to proceed to the dissertation phase of the degree program. Only one opportunity to retake an oral examination is allowed, and must be scheduled as soon as possible after the first examination.
  • Fail, based on a simple majority vote. A candidate failing an oral examination may not retake the examination, and may not continue in the doctoral program.

4.3. Preparing for the Oral Qualifying Examination

There is no particular way to prepare for oral examinations. Everything a student has done plays a role in preparation. Conversations with the student’s theology advisor are perhaps the most important element in preparation at this stage. The advisor’s role in a candidate’s doctoral program becomes especially important after the written qualifying examinations are completed. The advisor is the main guide in helping the candidate think out the direction of the dissertation research and, when the oral examination is passed, the dissertation prospectus. The advisor grants permission to proceed to the oral examination, ordinarily only after he or she is satisfied of the candidate’s readiness.

Advisors can be changed according to the method described in the publications listed under "Where to Get More Information" (section 1.3).

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