Preliminary Exam

Preliminary Exam Eligibility

Every first year Ph.D. student is required to pass the preliminary examination in order to continue in the program. The exams are held yearly, during the third week of May (Spring quarter). To sit for the preliminary exam, a student must have received a passing grade (B or higher) in the Fall and Winter core courses:
BME 210
BME 220
BME 221
BME 230A
BME 230B

Purpose of the Preliminary Exam

This exam is designed to test

  • critical thinking
  • scientific reasoning
  • experimental design
  • core skills in context

Selecting an Exam Cluster

By the end of Winter quarter, each student will select an exam cluster, which is the research area that loosely aligns with their intended dissertation research.
The clusters are:

  • Biomolecular/Genetics
  • Biophotonics
  • Cardiovascular
  • Nano/Micro
  • Neuro Engineering
  • Tissue Engineering

Based on the selected cluster, the department will assign a three member faculty committee and the student will be assigned a scientific paper to analyze and present to the committee.

Format of the Exam

The exam consists of an oral presentation from the student, followed by questions from the committee members.
The format will be:

  • Uninterrupted 20-minute presentation from the student (aided by PowerPoint slides)
  • A 30-minute Q&A session from the committee members
  • The exam duration is limited to no more than 1 hour

Exam Grading

The committee considers the following five categories when grading the exams:


  • How well was the paper’s significance placed in the context of previous literature?
  • How well was the main research problem and/or main hypothesis of the paper presented and discussed?
  • How well were the paper’s key conclusions put in context with other literature and the goals of the field?


  • How well was the data of the paper presented?
  • How well was the significance of the data described?
  • How well were the links between data and key conclusions of the paper made?
  • How well were key problems in the paper, if any, identified and described?

Question and Answer

  • How well did the presenter answer questions about the paper?
  • How well did the presenter answer questions on topics related to the paper?


  • How logical and clear was the presentation?
  • How well were the slides designed and organized?


  • How comfortable was the presenter in describing the paper?
  • How clear and concise was the presentation?

Exam Results

The exam outcomes can be:

  • Pass
  • Fail

Committee comments and written feedback (positive and negative) will be sent to the student and their faculty advisor within two business days of their exam date, along with the official notification of their exam result.

Should the student fail the exam the first time, the committee will recommend either to re-take the exam (in the following year's exam cycle) or to fulfil certain conditions, which will then result in a passing grade (such as taking specific coursework). Only one re-take is allowed. Should the student fail the exam a second time, they cannot continue in the Ph.D. program, but have the option to change their degree level down to a master’s degree.

Preliminary Exam Information Session

A mandatory information session about the preliminary exam process is conducted yearly during Winter quarter. During this information session, students will be given exact dates and a firm timeline for completing all necessary steps leading up to the preliminary exam.