Preliminary Exams

Written Exam
The written preliminary exam is completed by the end of a student's second year in the program and is a take-home exam consisting of a question from each thesis committee member.  Students have 7 days to complete the exam and submit it to the Biophysics Office.  If a student doesn't feel they can complete the written exam by the end of their second year, they can request an extension from the Biophysics Office.

  • Four weeks prior to the exam, the student should contact the Biophysics Office to schedule the exam.  They must send a completed Certification form along with the names of all their committee members. The certifcation form can be found on our website under the current students tab.  The Biophysics Office will then solicit a question from each committee member.  The Biophysics Office will assemble the exam and email it to the student on the scheduled start day
  • The student has seven days to complete the exam.  They can consult with any resource except another human being while answering the questions.  They can email the professor who wrote the question to ask for any needed clarification.  Once they have completed the exam, the student must submit an electronic copy and a hard copy of exam responses to the Biophysics Office
  • The Biophysics Office will distribute the answers for grading according to the UW-Madison grading scheme (A, AB, B, etc).  An average grade of a B constitutes a pass, and the final results are communicated to the student after all the grades are received.
  • Students have one opportunity to retake the written exam in the event of a non-passing grade

Oral Exam
The oral exam is taken after successfully completing the written exam.  The oral exam should be completed by the end of the student's third year in the program.  This exam consists of an oral defense of a written research proposal.  The format of the research proposal is based on the format for an NIH F31 predoctoral grant application.  If the student feels they need more time to complete the oral exam, they must request an extension from the Biophysics Office.

  • Four weeks prior to the exam, the student should notify the Biophysics Office of the exam date so a warrant can be obtained from the Graduate School. The warrant will be sent to the student who should a copy to their oral prelim defense
  • One week prior to the exam date, the student must distribute a copy of their proposal to each committee member and to the Biophysics Office
  • The Biophysics Office will designate a chair for the committee and provide them with the rating forms prior to the exam
  • At the exam, the student will give a 25-30 minute uninterrupted presentation about their research project.  Afterwards, the floor is opened for questions from the thesis committee members
  • After the defense, the committee meets in a closed session and grades the exam using an NIH-style rating system with 1 being the best, 5 the worst.  A score of 1-2.5 constitutes a pass, and after the defense, the committee chair submits the rating forms to the Biophysics Office
  • After the defense, the student returns the signed warrant to the Biophysics Office.  Upon approval from the Graduate School, the student will be promoted to dissertator status. Students will be notified of this via email from the graduate school containing instructions
  • Students are given one opportunity to retake the oral exam in the event of a non-passing grade
  • Format of the exam:
    • Title or Cover Page (include your name, a title, and the name of your advisor)
    • Summary/Abstract (1-2 paragraphs)
    • Specific Aims (limit 1 page, singled spaced)
    • Research Strategy (limit 6 pages, single spaced, including figures)
      • Background and Significance
      • Preliminary Data
      • Research Design and Methods
    • Timetable for completion of the project (be concise)
    • Bibliography (no page limit)