Core Preliminary Examination

The Accountancy Department’s Ph.D. Program Committee has responsibility for the preparation, administration, and evaluation of the Core Preliminary Examination (ACE). The exam is normally offered each May or June, prior to the beginning of the summer term.


The preliminary examination is an evaluation of a student’s qualifications for further advanced study and independent research. Satisfactory completion of the examination is necessary to enter the final stage of the Ph.D. Program, which is devoted to research, the dissertation, and the final examination.

The main objectives of the preliminary examination are:

  1. To integrate substantive accounting and interdisciplinary knowledge, covered in the Ph.D. program’s common core courses, into coherent theoretical structures, and to apply such knowledge in:
    • Developing relevant and interesting research questions, and
    • Evaluating research paradigms/approaches appropriate for addressing those questions;
  2. To critically analyze current accounting research

The ACE is designed to measure whether students possess the knowledge and abilities necessary for further advanced study and independent research.

Students are expected to pass the ACE on their first attempt. Students who fail the ACE must petition the Director of the Ph.D. program for permission to take another ACE. To be successful, the petition must show extenuating circumstances and outline a sufficient program of remedial courses or other scholarly tasks developed in consultation with and ultimately approved by the Ph.D. Program Committee. Grading procedures for the ACE are discussed later in this document.

Content and Procedures

The ACE consists of:

  1. A series of questions (no less than two and no more than six) to be answered in written form (60%-80% of exam weight), and
  2. A written critique of a research paper designated by the committee (20%-40% of exam weight).

This examination shall be based upon the body of knowledge derived from the Ph.D. background and common core course work requirements. Some questions, however, may come from other areas as a method of assessing the generality of the student’s knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge to settings that differ from those encountered in courses.

The Ph.D. Program Committee shall assign two faculty members to evaluate the each of the individual questions and the critique. These faculty members collaboratively evaluate the student’s performance, assigning one of the three categories presented in Exhibit 2. Exhibit 2 also summarizes the implications associated with each evaluative category. In the rare event the two faculty members cannot agree on a category, the Ph.D. Program Committee will arbitrate. A student must pass the entire ACE by scoring a grade of “pass” or better on all parts of the ACE.