PhD Qualifying Examination

 PhD candidates are also required to pass a Qualifying Examination (QE). The QE comprises:

  • Comprehensive examinations (formats differ among Departments/Programmes); and
  • An oral defence of the PhD thesis proposal (for which a 30- to 50-page thesis proposal is expected).


The comprehensive examinations test the general competence of the candidate in his/her discipline(s) or field(s), whereas the oral defence of the PhD thesis proposal ensures that the candidate is prepared to embark on his/her thesis research.

The comprehensive examinations comprise either two* written examinations or a written and an oral examination, depending on Departments/Programmes. Please consult your Department/Programme Graduate Coordinator for details. The oral defence of your research proposal will be held before a three-member panel of the Thesis Committee [including your supervisor(s)] appointed by the Head of Department/Programme.

*Students from the Department of Economics must note that the Department requires you to complete three written examinations for the comprehensive examinations, in addition to the oral defence of the thesis proposal.


Students must satisfy the following conditions before being allowed to sit the PhD QE:

  • Complete a minimum of five modules, at least two of which at level 6000, with a minimum CAP of 3.50;
  • Where applicable, obtain satisfactory grades in the Centre for English Language Communication graduate English modules at intermediate level; and
  • Other departmental requirements.

For students admitted prior to Semester I, 2009/2010, the QE should be taken before the end of the second year of the PhD candidature. A second attempt may be taken no later than six months after a first, failed attempt. This applies to both full-time and part-time candidates.

The monthly stipend can be suspended or scholarship/fee allowance terminated without notice for research scholars who fail any component of the PhD QE. Reinstatement will be reviewed after the scholar passes the PhD QE.

The candidature of a student will be terminated if he/she fails the PhD QE.

For students admitted from Semester I 2009/2010, the QE should be passed within the first two years of the PhD candidature. Within this period, a second PhD QE may be attempted should the candidate fail at the first attempt. This applies to both full-time and part-time candidates. For research scholars, the scholarship will only be suspended upon the recommendation of the Department.

A student who is unable to pass the PhD QE by the end of the second year of his/her candidature may be downgraded to the Masters programme if he/she can complete a reasonably good Masters thesis. For research scholars, the scholarship in such cases will be terminated. Otherwise, the candidature of such students will be terminated.


Both Masters and PhD candidates must also pass their theses at the end of the course of study before they can be considered for the award of degree.

Masters and PhD theses should not exceed 30,000 words and 80,000 words respectively. General guidelines on the format of research are available here.

PhD Oral Examination

The entire oral examination usually takes about two hours. It comprises an oral presentation followed by an oral defence/open discussion. There are usually three or four oral members on the examination board.

The oral presentation takes about 15 to 20 minutes and should not exceed 30 minutes. You should:

  • Give a brief overview of the thesis and highlight its connection to your research objectives;
  • Discuss key findings and new contributions made to the field;
  • Justify methodology and theoretical framework used; and
  • Analyse implications of study for future research, policy and other applications.

You are expected to answer satisfactorily any question raised on the subject matter of your research thesis and related subjects.

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Dean's Office, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences National University of Singapore

  • Add: The Shaw Foundation Building, Block AS7, Level 5
  • 5 Arts Link, Singapore 117570
  • Tel: +65 6516 6133
  • Email:
  • Fax: +65 6777 0751
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