Information on the BQE
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.]
Policy For Currently Classified Students
In accordance with the previous department policy, the department continues to require that classified students pass the BQE (as well as satisfy all university prerequisites and attain approval of their thesis or comprehensive exam proposal link) in order to advance to candidacy. If a student fails the BQE twice, and the faculty, as a group, feels 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.
What is the BQE
The department requires every graduate student, as a condition for advancement to classified status, to pass its Basic Qualifying Examination (BQE). 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.
How the BQE Differs From Course Work
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
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
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.
Grading Standards and Process for Both Exams:
Students earn either a pass or no-pass grade for both 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.
Examiners of the BQE are the members of the graduate committee. Grading and scoring are performed single-blind, such that no committee member has identifying knowledge of any examinee. The grade of pass or no-pass is reached by consensus of the committee, and students and the department are then notified by the graduate advisor of the outcome.
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.
Two Example Test Questions (with Answers):
1. Analytic Question:
Consider this passage:
- Not only does religious belief lack rational support due to the familiar shortcomings of the arguments that have been presented for God’s existence, but it can be demonstrated that religious belief is irrational, due largely to the internal inconsistency of religious doctrine. The problem with religious belief devoted to God as traditionally conceived is logical in nature. On a traditional conception, God is a supreme being who possesses all positive attributes to an infinite degree. A consequence of this is that God is infinitely just. Another consequence is that God is omnipotent. If one is infinitely just, then one would not allow injustice to occur if one could prevent it. But, as is familiar to us all, the world, which is supposed to be God’s creation, is full of injustice. This could be so only if God is either not infinitely just (i.e., God would allow an injustice to occur that it is within God’s power to prevent) or not omnipotent (i.e., there are injustices which it is not within God’s power to prevent). Whichever is the case, it follows that God is not a supreme being possessing all positive attributes to an infinite degree. Thus any religious belief devoted to such a God is irrational.
Q1: Carefully explain the structure of the reasoning in the argument just presented.
Q2: If this challenge to traditional religious belief is to be defeated, it looks as though at least one of the premises of the argument just presented will have to be rejected. Consider a possible objection to any of the premises and argue for or against it.
2. Text Question:
Kant labels the First Section of the work, “Transition from the Ordinary Rational Knowledge of Morality to the Philosophical.” Please explain this. Specifically, please explain how Kant argues that the “good will” should be understood in terms of the sense of duty rather than a feeling of benevolence (or something similar). Furthermore, please explain why Kant thinks that the notion of duty should be explicated in terms of what he ultimately calls the categorical imperative. (For instance, why doesn’t he describe our moral duty in terms of an obligation to maximize happiness? What does he think is unacceptable about this?) You should focus your answer on the argument of the First Section, though you may draw on material discussed elsewhere.