Oral Exams & Defenses

There are 3 milestone exams required by the University for all graduate students: the Master’s Final Exam/Thesis Defense if you are a master's degree student, and the Oral Comprehensive Exam and Final PhD Exam/Dissertation Defense if you are a doctoral student. These exams require pre-approval from the COGA at least two weeks prior to the exam date. Your department will request this pre-approval on your behalf after the exam date is scheduled, so you should work with your department as early as possible to schedule your exam

Final Exams/Defenses must occur before the graduation deadline. If you are defending a dissertation or thesis, we recommend holding the defense at least 1 week prior to the deadline so you have time to complete post-exam edits to the manuscript.

Oral Comprehensive Exams for doctoral students must be completed within the following time periods in order for credit hours taken during that term to count toward your post-comprehensive enrollment

  • Fall = Aug 1 - Dec 31

  • Spring = Jan 1 - May 31

  • Summer = June 1- July 31

When you and your department seek approval to schedule one of these exams, COGA checks to ensure you have fulfilled certain requirements: 

  • Enrolled in the degree plan for which the exam is being completed 

  • GPA of 3.0 or above 

  • Completed close to or over 30 hours 

  • Enrolled for the current term (unless the exam is completed prior to the early graduation deadline) 

  • No waiting or incomplete grades 

  • Not exceeded the time limit for degree completion 

  • If the exam is a thesis or dissertation exam, I complete at least 1 thesis or dissertation hour 

For doctoral exams, COGA also checks to see that you have: 

  • Completed two semesters at full time enrollment as defined by the full-time enrollment policy OR at least 18 hours over multiple semesters 

  • Completed the Research Skills and Responsible Scholarship requirement 

  • Successfully passed the Comprehensive Oral Exam within the last 5 years (Final Exam only) 

Finally, COGA will verify that the composition of exam committees is in accordance with Graduate Studies policies on Master's exam committee composition and Doctoral exam committee composition. Mediated attendance (teleconference or videoconference) by other members is allowable only if the student agrees to such arrangements. 

Related Policies

Exam Requirements

  • You must be enrolled in a minimum of 1 hour the semester in which you graduate (but not necessarily the semester in which you complete an exam, if the two are different).

  • The only exception: If all graduation requirements are completed within the first two weeks of the Fall or Spring semester, or the first week of the Summer session. In that case, you may graduate in that semester and are not obligated to enroll.

  • Additionally, you will not be allowed to take oral comprehensive or final examinations, or to go forward with a thesis or dissertation defense, if a waiting grade (WG) placeholder or an incomplete (I) grade is listed on your transcript.

For students submitting a thesis or dissertation:

  • When your department submits your exam date and information for pre-approval, your "My Graduation Checklist" Canvas site will be activated.

  • “My Graduation Checklist” is what you will use to submit all of your graduation documents to KU and to verify when your graduation checklist is complete.

Virtual Exam Frequently Asked Questions

No. The Graduate Student Oral Exam Attendance policy permits all students and/or committee members to participate in milestone exams remotely (e.g. video conferencing).  Milestone exams include: Milestone exams include: 

  • Oral or written comprehensive exams 

  • Preliminary exams 

  • Dissertation or thesis defenses 

  • Prospectus defenses 

NOTE: All participants in an exam involving remote participation must be fully aware of what is transpiring and fully able to participate in all components of the discussion with you and each other. Any material presented during the examination, orally or in writing, shall be seen and heard by all members. If a committee member has not arrived, the exam may not begin; if a committee member leaves, the exam may not proceed. Oral examinations that do not meet these participation requirements are not valid. 

Departments do their best to honor students’ wishes regarding in-person or remote exams; however, in cases where you prefer for committee members to be physically present, this preference may require delaying the exam.

If your preference for an in-person exam delays the exam long enough to impact your overall progress to degree, your department may require a remote.

You are encouraged to use Zoom. Zoom platform provides all of the features that will best support oral exams, including the “breakout room” feature that will allow the student to “step out” for the committee to confer, without ending the call. The University has a license with Zoom that allows you and faculty to use extended features for free. The following guide is a helpful resources: 


If a committee member does not arrive or appear, the exam may not begin.  If a committee member leaves or their technology fails, the exam may not proceed. Oral examinations that do not meet requirements in the Oral Exam Attendance policy are not valid.

Yes. Dissertation defense should be conducted via an online platform that allows other participants to join or observe for free via a computer or mobile device. The Zoom Guide to Final Defenses, found in your "My Graduation Checklist" Canvas course, provides instructions on setting up a link to the defense that anyone can use to join/participate. Your COGA Advisor or graduate support staff member will share the link and announce the defense with others in the department, as they would an in-person exam. 

We accept electronic signatures from committee members on all required graduation documents. To collect them simultaneously, we suggest using an online electronic signature tool, such as PandaDoc. Detailed instructions for correctly setting up a free PandaDoc account for personal use can be found in your "My Graduation Checklist" Canvas course.