Masters Committee and Exam Process

Students are responsible for knowing all requirements of their program when they matriculate.

Examination Committee

The Master’s final committee, which serves as the examining committee for the final oral exam, is established by an online process found here.

The master's final examination committee must consist of at least three members, including the advisor(s). All members appointed to the committee must meet the minimum standards established by the program and college. All members of the committee and the student must participate in the final examination. Committee members and/or the student may participate remotely as long as all conditions for participation in the examination are met.

  • At least two members (including the advisor) must be WRS faculty and be involved in research closely related to that of the student’s project.
  • The 3rd member should represent another graduate faculty department and be from an area of emphasis outside that of the student’s research. If the student has a declared minor(s), the outside member must be from the minor field(s).  This member may, however, be a member of the WRS faculty.

Changes in committee membership may be made after filing the degree plan if approved by the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) and the collegiate unit.

Master’s Final Exam

Other than course exams, the final oral examination is the only exam taken by an M.S. candidate. The exam consists of two parts:

  1. Public seminar by the student, covering the objectives of the thesis, technical approach, results, and conclusions
  2. Defense of the work to the examining committee in a closed session.


Scheduling your final exam is often a difficult and time-consuming process. You should begin preparing as soon as your advisor gives you the “go ahead.” This will occur when your advisor regards your thesis/project ready for review by the rest of the committee. To allocate sufficient time to read the thesis/project and decide whether it is ready for defense:

  • Plan a date that you will deliver the thesis/project to your advisor and committee members. Notify them of the delivery date at least two weeks in advance so they can schedule time to read it.
  • Allow all members of the examining committee at least two weeks to read the thesis/project after it has been delivered.

Between the time the committee receives the thesis/project and the date of your exam, you must obtain the signatures of each committee member on a form verifying that the committee has found the thesis ready for defense. You must obtain this Reviewer’s Report form from the GSSP (downloaded with the Graduation Packet online) and return it to the GSSP office so that you can pick up the Final Exam Form (where your committee will indicate if you have passed or failed), which is needed for the oral exam.

Occasionally reviewers will determine that substantial revision is required before the thesis/project is ready to defend, and their concerns must be addressed before the defense can proceed.

Finally, it is your responsibility to arrange the exam time with the committee, schedule the exam room, and see that the exam announcements are distributed. Supply the WRS Graduate Program Coordinator with the date, time, title, and an abstract so an announcement can be distributed to the WRS email lists at least one week prior to the exam. You may also contact the WRS Graduate Program Coordinator if you need assistance with scheduling an exam room.

Difficult Times of the Year to Schedule

  • Final oral exams may be scheduled in one month, but revisions and final paperwork often take students into the next month.  This becomes an issue for exams scheduled in late August or late December.  Students finishing in September or January MUST register for the next semester even though they don't need the entirety of it.  Contact the WRS Graduate Program Coordinator early to plan accordingly.
  • If final oral exams need to be scheduled in the summer, make sure to allow extra time in planning as many staff and faculty are off-campus.

Public Seminar

You and your advisor should decide on the length of your presentation. It is recommended that oral presentations last about 30-40 minutes. Consult with your advisor for help in selecting material and for advice on making an effective presentation. It is a good idea to practice the seminar in front of graduate students in your advisor’s group before the exam date. Be sure to start your talk by describing your main objectives and why the work was done, and end by summarizing your important findings and conclusions. Also, be sure to acknowledge assistance you received from other persons in doing the work and funding assistance from granting agencies or fellowships. Although questions of clarification may occur during the presentation, most questions are reserved until the end of the presentation when the general audience is allowed to ask questions about the work. When there are no further questions from the general audience, they are asked to leave and the second part of the thesis defense can begin.

Closed Session with Examining Committee

Your advisor, as chair of the examining committee, will moderate the session. Questions usually arise directly from the thesis or the oral presentation. However, you should be prepared for the possibility that a line of questioning may lead beyond the narrow confines of the thesis material. For example, questions about a statistical method you used or how you performed an analysis may lead to broader questioning to gauge your understanding of the method and other procedures that may have been appropriate to address the issue at hand.

Additional Info for Plan A Students

M.S. thesis defenses typically last between two and three hours. Because questioning is open-ended, you should be sure to schedule enough time to allow the committee to complete its questioning. To be on the safe side, you should reserve the exam room for a three-hour period and make sure that committee members are available for the entire period.

Specific formatting guidelines for your thesis are available on the Graduate School’s website. You must present an electronic copy to the WRS Program Coordinator. Check with your advisor for their copy requirements

Additional Info for Plan B Students

Plan B exams tend to be shorter and less complicated than a thesis defense. Because Plan B programs are more course-intensive, the examining committee may spend relatively less time addressing the Plan B project and more time on questions related to course work. Such questions still tend to evolve from the topic of the project and presentation, but you should be ready for general questions in the areas of the WRS core, your area of emphasis within WRS, and your related field or minor program.

Plan B students should provide an electronic copy of their Plan B project to the WRS Program Coordinator after a successful final oral exam.

Degree Completion Steps

The Graduate School has additional information and visuals on degree completion steps.

Remember that WRS may have slight variations to some steps, so make sure to reference the WRS Student Handbook or contact the WRS Program Coordinator ([email protected]) with questions.