Doctoral Candidacy Examination Scores and Time to Degree Completion

Juliann S McBrayer, Steven Tolman, Katherine Fallon
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 15  •  2020  •  pp. 181-198

The purpose of this study was to determine if there was a relationship between doctoral students’ candidacy examination scores and estimated time to degree completion, measured by dissertation progression.

Time to degree completion in doctoral programs continues to be an issue and reasons for high attrition rates for doctoral students are broad and include varied core components of the academic pathway such as challenges with critical thinking during coursework, stress about passing comprehensive examinations, poor academic writing, and lack of knowledge around scholarly practitioner research.

An ex post facto, correlational research design utilized quantitative data to determine whether a relationship existed between candidacy examination scores and time to doctoral degree completion.

If student’s ability to score higher on the candidacy examination increases their likelihood of dissertation activity, completion of specified benchmarks such as a pre-prospectus, prospectus, and final dissertation defenses, one year following the candidacy examination, programs have evidence-based support to retain a comprehensive examination.

The findings denoted a weak to moderate relationship between candidacy examination score and dissertation progression (defending pre-prospectus and/or prospectus) within one year from taking the candidacy examination. Thus, the researchers believe this identification of this relationship warrants further research to continue to examine how candidacy examination scores impact progress to degree completion with a focus on academic writing and scholarly practitioner research.

We recommend for practitioners the continued implementation of the candidacy examination for students to aid in addressing any issues or misunderstandings students may have prior to the bulk of their data collection and analysis by assessing students’ abilities in academic writing and scholarly practitioner research and in turn, improve time to degree completion.

We recommend that future research is conducted to gather a longitudinal understanding of the implications of administering a comprehensive examination followed by a pre-prospectus and prospectus defense will positively impact student’s progression through their research and result in the dissertation being completed in a more timely manner.

Doctoral programs need to provide support to avoid students who are progressing through a doctoral program and successfully completing coursework, being halted at the All But Dissertation (ABD) stage and as a result fail to complete these programs due to poor academic writing and lack of knowledge around scholarly practitioner research.

A longer analysis timeline and larger sample size would help in further understanding the true beneficial or potentially harmful implications this continued implementation of the candidacy examination has on individual students’ progression through to degree completion.

doctoral program, comprehensive examination, candidacy examination, degree completion, Doctor of Education, EdD
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