In Trident's Ph.D. in Educational Leadership program, preparing for the qualifying exam requires a great deal of planning. Passing the exam is a prerequisite for advancing into the dissertation phase. The exam itself is comprised of different concepts including research methodology and theoretical frameworks, the population in the study and variables, as well as the novelty in the study as it pertains to the research questions. Students will choose whether their study will be quantitative or qualitative in nature.

Qualitative or Quantitative Study

Understanding the difference between quantitative and qualitative study is essential. This is an important building block to research design, and the methods being used in the study are dependent on the type of research. Interviews, for example, are great for a qualitative study if the goal is to understand perceptions and reasoning behind participants in the study. However, a survey may be more appropriate for a quantitative study if the goal is to see the number of participants who fall into a certain category, without regard to their perceptions or attitudes.

Research Design

Properly articulating the study design is critical to successfully passing the qualifying exam. The student should understand exactly how their research design is conducted, as well as how the variables can be measured and how it is reliable. While understanding concepts and definitions is a good start, there is a greater emphasis on how the research methodology is applied to the student’s dissertation.

Gathering Study Materials to Prepare for the Exam

Leading up to the qualifying exam, students will have completed the core curriculum. Many of these courses cover, in detail, different theories applicable to the student's dissertation topic. To prepare for the qualifying exam, students should gather particular citations or publications in respective courses that are the most applicable to the eventual research topic.

A great resource to gather references and academic materials, or to collaborate with others, is This reference management tool is particularly helpful for saving academic websites and keeping tabs on publications and articles from previous classes or from your own research.

To learn more about the PhD in Educational Leadership program requirements, prospective students are welcome to contact Trident's Admissions department while current students can contact their Student Success Advisor.

Joseph Chan is an Admissions Advisor at Trident and is currently enrolled in the Ph.D. in Educational Leadership program.