The Preliminary Exam

While you will probably take a small smattering of courses that have more traditional midterm and final exams, these are not really that critical to your success in graduate school. Rather than caring about your grades in them, the goal is to actually master the materials in relation to your research.

Instead, graduate school typically has three major milestones:

1. Qualifying Exam (aka Quals)
2. Preliminary Exam (aka Prelims)
3. Final Defense

There are a lot of variations on the qualifying and preliminary exams, even within a university. Taking a separate qualifying exam appears to be rare based on other graduate students I have spoken with both within the University of Illinois and from other schools. However, whether or not your program has separate Quals will change the goals and expectations of the Prelim exam.

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