Basic Qualifying Exam

[Note: This BQE page is from the early 2000s. Most of the information still holds good, but some of it is outdated.]

What is the BQE?

The BQE is the Department of Philosophy’s basic qualifying examination, which every graduate student is required to pass as a condition for advancement to classified status. The purpose of the BQE is to ensure that department students and graduates have adequate basic skills prerequisite for the successful study of philosophy at an advanced level as well as related pursuits such as teaching at the community college level or entering a Ph.D. program in philosophy. The BQE also provides the student with feedback as to their current knowledge and abilities in philosophy. The BQE is a pass/no-pass examination given twice in the academic year, once in the fall semester and once in the spring semester. The exam consists of two parts: a Text portion and an Analytic portion. The duration of each portion of the test is three hours, and sections are taken on different days. Examples of test questions and answers are included below.

Orientation Meeting

Early in each semester a special orientation session will be held by the Graduate Advisor to assist students in preparation for the BQE and to answer any general questions about the graduate program.

How the BQE Differs from Coursework

The BQE serves as a distinct requirement for the MA incorpoated into the requirements for advancement from conditionally classifed to classifed status with the university, and for advancement to candidacy. It also represents a distinct evaluation of a student’s philosophical skills and abilities. Course work helps students to develop their abilities to read and comprehend philosophical materials, explicate and critically evaluate philosophical positions as well as the arguments offered for and against them, and to place these in a broader context of the philosophical literature. The BQE exams differ from course work in that students interact with philosophic works or passages without the explicit guidance and feedback of instructors. The department feels that the ability to understand and critically evaluate philosophical positions, concepts, and arguments as a relatively autonomous scholar–both as one encounters them, and during the course of extended study–is a fundamental prerequisite for successful completion of MA and Ph.D. programs, philosophical research, and teaching professionally.

The Text Portion of the Exam

Purpose: The purpose of the text examination is to test a student’s ability to comprehend philosophical texts with sufficient facility to answer questions regarding their thesis or theses, their overall textual and argumentative structure, the structure of their major individual arguments, their technical concepts and the application of those concepts. The text examination also tests a student’s ability to critically assess such elements of texts.

Mechanics and Test Format: Every semester a set of philosophical texts is chosen by the CSULB faculty for the BQE. The exam is in essay format and is open book. Students are responsible for providing their own blue books for the exam. For obvious reasons no blibliography is required. However, students are expected to follow proper conventions regarding quotations and paraphrases, though one need only cite the author and page number. Your text can contain your personal underlining, comments, and etc.. However, summaries or selections from outside sources are not allowed. If you have any questions about the appropriateness of your notations etc., consult the graduate advisor prior to the examination.

Knowledge and Skills Tested: The department expects students to carefully read the materials. Students must be able to identify and evaluate the major philosophical theses, concepts, and arguments discussed by the author(s) within the work(s). The student should expect to answer questions that involve both expository and evaluative skills in such a manner as to clearly demonstrate their mastery of the material and their ability to critically evaluate and/or apply the theses, concepts, and arguments. It is crucial that the student respond to the exam prompt in full.

The Analytic Portion of the Exam

Purpose: The purpose of the analytic exam is to test a student’s ability to read novel passages from philosophical texts with comprehension and depth of insight, so as to be capable of identifying, clearly and concisely explicating, and critically evaluating arguments, concepts, and theses contained within the passage.

Mechanics and Test Format: The analytic portion of the exam is also in essay format. Students are responsible for providing their own blue books for the exam. Questions on this portion are based on reading passages taken from major philosophical works supplied at the time of the exam.

Content and Skills Tested: The student should expect questions that ask them to delineate arguments contained in the passage by identifying and differentiating premises and conclusions and restating the argument in standard form (e.g., by presenting the argument as a sententially valid argument using numbered premises). Students may also be asked to evaluate an argument in the passage, either by arguing for or against premises in the argument or evaluating the logical structure of the argument. Questions in this section may also ask students to identify the thesis of the passage and evaluate it critically independent of the argument (if any) offered by the author of the passage. Questions in this section may ask students to identify and explicate concepts introduced in the passage by the author and either to apply them appropriately to novel cases or compare them other concepts in common currency within philosophy. It is not important for the student to identify the author of the passage or which school of philosophical thought that the passage represents. The student should be concerned only with addressing what is specifically asked about the passage. It is of critical importance that the student responds to every aspect of the prompt. In general, students can prepare for the analytic exam by reviewing sections on argument extraction, formalization, and criticism in standard critical thinking and formal logic texts.

Policy for New Students

In order to achieve classified status, a student must pass the Department’s Basic Qualifying Exam (BQE). All students admitted without deficiencies must attempt both portions of the BQE by the end of their second semester* in the program. All students admitted without deficiencies must pass both portions of the BQE by the end of their third semester* in order to achieve classified status. Conditionally classified students who must rectify a deficiency must attempt the BQE by the end of their third semester* in the program and pass it by the end of their fourth semester* in order to achieve classified status. [* = academic year semester; Winter Term and Summer Session do not count as academic year semesters.]

If a student fails the BQE twice, and the faculty conclude that the student has not demonstrated the skills necessary to successfully fulfill the requirements for the degree, then the department may, at its annual review of graduate students, recommend that the student leave the program. However, students are reminded that a departmental recommendation to leave the program does not constitute academic probation, disqualification, or dismissal from the program (official administrative actions of the university described in the university catalog link). Students retain the option to elect to continue in the program and retake the BQE. If a currently classified student does not comply with the requirement to take and pass the BQE, the Department may elect to classify the student as “failing to show satisfactory progress towards the departmental requirements for the degree,” to deny eligibility for department scholarships (consistent with the terms of the donation), deny eligibility for department assistantships, and/or deny eligibility for any course for which permission from the faculty or department is required.

Grading Standards and Process for Both Exams:

Students earn a score of either ‘pass’ or ‘no-pass’ for both the text and analytic portions of the exam. It is possible to pass one portion and not pass another. If a student passes one portion of the BQE but does not pass the other, she or he need only take the portion not previously passed. Grading and scoring are, wherever possible, performed double-blind, such that no examiner has identifying knowledge of any examinee, and no examinee has identifying knowledge of any examiner. The score of ‘pass’ or ‘no-pass’ is reached by consensus of the examining committee, and students and the department are then notified by the graduate advisor of the outcome.