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Special education doctoral written
prelim study guide

1.0 Purpose of the written prelim

The special education written prelim is intended to be a comprehensive written examination in which the student demonstrates knowledge and understanding of special education. The examination content covers three broad areas within the discipline and students are expected to respond to each question in depth. Content areas addressed are:

  • Historical context of ,
  • Research approaches in ,
  • Current trends in .

This study guide is provided to orient students to the structure and setting for the written prelim. It is also intended to provide an overview of the type of questions to expect on the written prelim and provide a framework for structuring students’ preparation. The study guide does not provide actual questions that might be on any specific examination.

2.0 Eligibility

In order to take the special education written prelim the student must submit a formal request to take the prelim using the form attached to the study guide. This request must be submitted one semester prior to the intended semester of the exam. Registration is done through one's adviser and the director of graduate studies. To be eligible to register for the exam the student must meet the following conditions:

  1. Completed EPSY 8701, EPSY 8702, EPSY 8261(51) and EPSY 8262(52) (or equivalents), EPSY 5216 (or other research methods class) and EPSY 8694.
  2. Submitted their GPAS and have it fully approved.
  3. Filed the form stating their intent to take the written prelim.

The student must submit the doctoral written prelim registration form (available online on the Ed Psych current student forms page) one semester prior to the intended semester of the exam. Please turn in the form complete with advisor’s signature to the Ed Psych DGS assistant for verification and final DGS signature.

3.0 Written prelim format

The special education written prelim is a take home exam that is offered twice a year on the following dates:

  • Fall semester: exam will be distributed via email on the third Friday in August; for fall of 2018 only, the exam may also be distributed the first Friday in October. Students may only select ONE of the fall 2018 options.
  • Spring semester: exam will be distributed via email on the first Friday in January.
  • Students will be given ten days to prepare a written response to each of the questions. All work must be conducted independently and the Agreement of Exam Terms signed and returned the same day the exam is distributed.

Students will be given ten days to prepare a written response to each of the questions. All work must be conducted independently and the Agreement of Exam Terms signed and returned the same day the exam is distributed.

A data bank of questions for written prelim examinations has been developed by the SEP faculty based on the content areas stated above. The faculty will construct the examination by selecting three questions for consideration in each topic area. The student will then select one question from each of the three areas to write on.

One question that is more specific to the student’s area of interest will be developed by the student and their advisor.

Papers should be typed in Microsoft Word -- double spaced, Times New Roman 12 point font, 1 inch margins. General questions should be 5-8 pages each not including references. The specialty question should be 7-10 pages not including references. References should follow APA standards.

4.0 Prelim scoring


The student responses to the three general written preliminary examination questions will be evaluated using the following six criteria.

  1. Theoretical and empirical foundation. Response establishes a foundation of theoretical and empirical support through the use of high quality citations.
  2. Content knowledge. Response adequately covers the necessary content to answer the question.
  3. Integration. Response demonstrates an awareness of multiple, and perhaps competing, perspectives.
  4. Cohesion. Response is logical and coherent.
  5. Concise. Response directly answers the question asked.
  6. Technical writing. Response demonstrates quality technical writing.

There will be a 'Pass with Distinction' option for exceptional responses. The following descriptors:

  • Exceptional - exceptional strong with essentially no or negligible weaknesses (Pass with Distinction)
  • Very Good to Excellent - strong with a number of minor weaknesses to very strong with only some minor weaknesses (Pass)
  • Poor to Marginal - very few strengths and numerous major weaknesses to a few strengths but several major weaknesses or at least one major weakness that undermines the response (Fail)


All questions are scored on a PASS/FAIL basis. Each general prelim question is evaluated by two faculty members. The specialty question is graded by the adviser and another faculty member selected by the adviser. Two passes are required for a 'pass' for each question. An overall pass on the written prelim exam requires passing each question. Failed questions (two 'fails') may be retaken one additional time. If there is a difference in the grading of any response, an alternate member will read and evaluate the student’s response.

If a student does not pass any area on the prelim s/he has the option for one re-take prelim in the following semester. Only the failed area needs to be retaken. In a rare case where the student has failed the prelim twice a petition may be submitted by the advisor to the program faculty requesting a second re-take with a rationale for this request.

5.0 Prelim content areas

The doctoral special education written prelim will consist of questions in the following three areas. This guide is to assist the student in focusing their preparation for the written prelim by providing the rationale for each section, possible topics that may be addressed, and a sample question that relates to that section. The topics of focus are not to be considered a definitive list but are included as examples of areas that may be probed.

5.1 Historical context of

To know why we now do things the way we do and to be prepared to move forward accordingly. This question may be linked with a current issue requiring the response to propose a train of thought regarding the influence of history on the present. To understand different approaches used by practitioners and to be informed when deciding to adopt or not adopt specific instructional strategies.

Possible topics for focus:

  • deinstitutionalization/inclusion
  • least restrictive environment
  • assistive/adaptive technology
  • federal laws
  • parental rights/responsibilities

Sample questions:

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is an issue that has required the attention of professionals in the field of . What variables need to be examined for determining LRE and what criteria would be necessary to assure LRE placement. In responding to this question be sure to address the needs of individuals with multiple disabilities. Consider, also, least restrictive issues as they apply to the mandate of “appropriate education”

practice within the past 30 years has been directed and formed through a series of federal laws mandating specific services and procedures. Synthesize the basic issues that this body of law has addressed and the implications of these laws on public school systems in the United States.

5.2 Research and measurement approaches in

To understand the contributions of different research approaches to the development of our knowledge base with emphasis on the underlying impact of research approaches.

Possible topics for focus:

  • qualitative research design
  • quantitative research design
  • single subject design
  • curriculum based measures
  • reliability and validity

Sample questions:

Compare and contrast quantitative and qualitative methods of research. What advantages and disadvantages are associated with each type of research? Identify examples of both types of research in . Use these examples when preparing your answer.

Design a study to research the effectiveness of cooperative learning in relationship to achievement and integration of students with (specific disability) in regular education settings. Justify your selection.

What is the role of empirical research in ? What types of problems in , if any, cannot be addressed through empirical research. Justify your answer.

Research in the fields of low incidence handicaps is limited by the numbers of subjects available at any location or age level. What kinds of studies can be designed to help advance our knowledge and understanding of these conditions to enable us to design more appropriate educational programs.

5.3 Current trends in

To develop a context for understanding the value of the trends and relevant decisions and laws being made to address the trends and to consider the impact of politics and education to develop rational responses to new ideas and new movements. To understand the broad context of services and to facilitate rapport with persons in the system to enable the development of strategies to best impact the system in positive ways.

Possible topics for focus:

  • mental health and
  • cocaine/drugs and
  • whole language
  • transitions service planning
  • adaptive and assistive technology
  • graduation outcomes
  • basic skills testing
  • students “at risk”
  • due process structure
  • related and support services
  • institutions and services involved
  • legal mandates and policy
  • over identification of specific sub-cultures

Sample questions:

Design a course appropriate for pre-service preparation of elementary and secondary school teachers concerning the uses adaptive communication in public school classroom expectations for teachers, parents, and administrators. Your response should be in the form of a course syllabus with goals, objectives, a topical outline of issues related to inclusion and evaluation of student progress.

The government of Korea has made you responsible for the development of a new educational program for ten children ages 0-5 years with physical impairments. Integrating your knowledge of handicapped education how would you design and administrate such a program to provide a model of best practice. What important issues will you consider when organizing such a program and how will you meet these concerns.

What variables need to be examined for determining LRE and what criteria would be necessary to assure LRE placement. In responding to this question be sure to address the needs of multihandicapped individuals.

Currently the definition of learning disabilities eliminates any individual who has a hearing or vision loss. Discuss this policy and present your position regarding the value of such a policy. Be sure to include the rationale for your position.

Assume you are responsible for the education program of a class of eight boys in , of average, IQ, poor achievement, and ages between the 12 and 14. They do not pay attention, do not follow directions, but talk and move about the room as they please. Some of them have been labeled “minimally neurologically impaired” others “character disorder”. And still others “dyslexic, SLBP, ADD etc. describe the program of educational intervention you recommend. Include curriculum and materials, teacher management of behavior, motivation, and administrative, organizational actions necessary. Make reference to the theory or theories you are following and cite research to support tactics you recommend.

Curriculum-based measurement has been used primarily as a method of progress monitoring for students with mild disabilities. Describe how the concept of CBM might be use with students with severe disabilities. What measures would be used” in what says would teachers implement the measurement procedures?

Special education prelim registration form