Final Oral Examination (SGS)

The  Final Oral Examination (FOE) is the culminating experience of your doctoral studies at the University of Toronto.

  • In addition to reviewing and approving the thesis, and testing your knowledge of your field of study, the FOE should discuss new questions that arise from the work and future projects that could be developed
  • The FOE ensures a consistent level of academic excellence across the University and the country
  • The FOE is a closed exam and usually lasts about 2.5 - 3hrs

Setting up an FOE is a complex process. Be sure to consult these documents frequently to keep you on track.

PhD Exam Guidelines

PhD Checklist

PhD FOE Timeline


You must meet all of the requirements below (no exceptions) to proceed with the FOE process:

  1. Registered as a student
  2. Completion of all PhD Program Requirements (including PhD Candidacy) minus the defense 
  3. Produced a thesis that is roughly the equivalent of three full research manuscripts in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Prior publication is encouraged
  4. Final PAC Meeting with a Field Expert
  5. Successful completion of the PhD Departmental Examination or approval of the Departmental Oral Examination Waiver (see below)

Supervisor Responsibilities

  1. Provide appropriate guidance and timely feedback to student to enable completion of the thesis within the program length and to the standards of the School of Graduate Studies (SGS).
  2. Formally approve the student’s written thesis or research proposal, and readiness to proceed to the exam, during a Final PAC meeting that includes a full practice examination to prepare the student for the exam (see Final PAC Meeting below).
  3. Responsible for striking the examination committee by contacting eligible examiners and confirming their willingness and availability to participate in the prescribed roles (see Examination Committee below).
  4. Assist student with finalizing an exam date (in accordance with SGS and departmental scheduling conditions) that is subject to IMS approval.
  5. Assist student with exam logistics for off-site in-person examinations and/or remote examinations when the IMS Zoom account is unavailable.
  6. Ensure student is able to submit a complete examination package for IMS approval a minimum of nine working weeks prior to the intended exam date

Final PAC Meeting

Your Supervisor and PAC must formally approve your written thesis and readiness to defend during a Final PAC Meeting that includes a full practice examination to prepare you for the exam. If you intend on applying for a waiver of the Departmental Oral Examination, it is mandatory to have an additional SGS faculty member at this meeting as a field expert.

  • The Pre-exam PAC meeting should not be held too far in advance of the exam
  • This meeting must include a 20-minute slide presentation and a question and answer period where PAC members pose questions typical of those asked during a final defense
  • A final draft of your thesis should be circulated to the committee (and external faculty) at least 4 weeks prior to the final PAC
  • All PAC members must attend

REQUIRED: Final PAC Approval

The PAC, including the field expert, must vote on your readiness to proceed to the defense by attesting to each of the three check list items from the PAC Meeting Form (see below):

PAC Final Report Checklist


Ensure the PAC report is completed accurately, in its entirety, and that all members have signed off. If the committee is unable to attest to the above three questions the meeting will not be considered the Final PAC Meeting, and an additional PAC meeting must be held until you are able to meet these requirements.


Departmental Oral Examination Waiver

If you intend on applying for a waiver of the Departmental Oral Examination, it is mandatory to have an additional faculty member at the final PAC meeting as a field expert. The additional faculty member must:

  • be a member of SGS with supervisory experience and scientific competence in your research area
  • read your thesis and be able to provide an objective perspective and feedback to you and the PAC regarding the content of the thesis and presentation

At the end of the meeting the commitee, including the field expert, votes on your readiness for defense and signs and completes the following form:

PhD Departmental Oral Examination Waiver


  1. Approval of the departmental oral examination waiver. Usually occurs with prior publication of a significant proportion of the thesis work, peer review of the bulk of experimental work, and PAC reports indicative of no concerns with progress and performance.
  2. Waiver of departmental oral examination may be denied. If so, you must complete the two-tier examination process.  Waivers are generally not approved if research involves issues of conflict of interest, confidentiality, or intellectual property, or if the student has lapsed for a significant period of time, or the PAC reports indicate some concerns. 

Approval of the waiver is dependent on a variety of factors including the review of the waiver request, final PAC report, participation of an external faculty member at your final PAC meeting, as well as grades, publications arising from graduate work, and public presentations.

If you are uncertain of the potential eligibility to waive the Departmental Oral Examination, you can meet with a Graduate Coordinator prior to arranging the Final PAC Meeting.

External Appraisal

Your thesis must be evaluated by an approved External Appraiser who is a recognized expert in your field.  The written appraisal is integral to the FOE and your examination cannot continue without it. The SGS FOE Guidelines provide full details of the external appraisal.

Criteria for the External Appraiser

  • Non-UofT expert in your field of research
  • Affiliated with another University and cannot have been affiliated with UoT within the last 6 years
  • Hold professorial rank equivalent to a Full Member of SGS. They must be eligible to supervise graduate students as a Professor or Associate Professor. Assistant Professors are not eligible.
  • Be an arms-length, objective reviewer - neither affiliated with the student's research project nor collaborating with the Supervisor or student in the previous six years

Responsibilities and Compensation

  • Required to submit a written thesis appraisal at least 2 weeks before the FOE (they should expect to receive the thesis 6-8 weeks prior to the exam)
  • The appraisal should:
    • contain an explicit recommendation that the thesis be accepted, or not be accepted, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
    • consist of a constructively critical, analytical comment; the importance of the work should be assessed in relation to its field; a thesis synopsis is not required
  • May participate, in-person or remotely, as a voting member in the examination (IMS encourages remote participation)
  • IMS will provide a $100 honorarium and up to $500 for traveling expenses (upon submission of all original receipts to the IMS office)
    • The External Appraiser is not to book travel arrangements until they are formally approved by IMS and SGS
    • If the Supervisor or Supervisor’s academic department pays all traveling expenses, the Supervisor is responsible for contacting IMS for reimbursement of $500 for its portion of expenses

Appointment and Approval

  • You will submit 2-3 potential External Appraiser nominations as part of your FOE examination package to IMS
    • Your supervisor must secure the potential appraiser's willingness to participate before submitting the nomination to IMS
    • At least one full CV must be included (your supervisor will obtain the candidate's CVs)
    • Failure to provide more than one nomination could result in delays to your FOE
  • IMS will vet the options but ultimately the Vice-Dean, Students, SGS has final approval
  • Upon approval IMS will make arrangements with the External Appraiser for obtaining their appraisal

FOE Committee

The Examination Committee represents the Council of the School of Graduate Studies and through it the Governing Council of the University. The SGS FOE Guidelines provide full details of the responsibilities of the Examination Committee and the Examination Committee Chair. 

  • You and your Supervisor will discuss and agree on who should be on your FOE committee. Your Supervisor is ultimately responsible for contacting the examiners (and External Appraiser) and confirming their willingness to participate in the prescribed roles. You may contact them for availability once they have agreed to participate.
  • All participants (voting and non-voting) must be approved by IMS and SGS. Any subsequent changes to the examination committee must be approved in advance by SGS.

Examination Committee Composition:

  1. Comprises 4-6 voting members
    • Minimum 1 and maximum 3 voting members from your PAC (your supervisor(s) count as members of your PAC/Supervisory Committee)
    • 2-3 examiners external to your PAC (may include the External Appraiser)
    • We recommend including 5 voting members (at least 2 external to your PAC) to ensure the exam proceeds as scheduled
  2. May also include up to 2 non-voting members (i.e. additional PAC members)
  3. A non-voting Examination Chair appointed by SGS (upon IMS request)

SGS FOE committee

  • Obtained from SGS PhD Thesis and Defence Guidelines

Eligibility Criteria and Responsibilities


(excluding External Appraiser)


  • Member of the UofT graduate faculty with expertise in the field
  • Must have an active SGS graduate faculty membership (also applies to non-voting members)
  • Voting members must become sufficiently acquainted with the thesis content to form a judgment as to its acceptability

NB: Additional criteria and responsibilities for Examiner, External Appraiser (see "External Appraisal" tab), and Examination Chair.


Refer to the PhD Exam Guidelines for detailed information on choosing your examiners.


FOE Scheduling

Your PhD Final Oral Examination package must be submitted for IMS approval a minimum of nine working weeks prior to the proposed examination date - remember to build in this time when settling on the exam date.

Additionally, please note these important scheduling conditions:

  • Exams are not permitted one full week prior to the official University closure date for the winter holidays nor in the first 3 business days after the University officially opens in January
  • Takes place Monday-Friday; 9am at earliest and 3pm at latest
  • Exams held remotely due to COVID-19 protocol are booked through the IMS Zoom account (where available) or other arrangements are coordinated through the Supervisor
  • Normally conducted in-person (on-site exams arranged through IMS are subject to SGS and MSB room availability); off-campus exams must include logistical details with the examination package
  • Normally conducted in-person, preferably on-campus
  • For off-campus exams, logistical details must be submitted with the examination package
  • Scheduled on days the University is open
  • The University is closed for approximately 2 weeks during the winter holidays. These 2 weeks do not count toward the minimum 9 working weeks notice needed to schedule the defense.
  • To be eligible for the next round of convocation, defenses must be scheduled a minimum of one week prior to the final date for receipt of degree recommendations for the desired convocation cycle listed in the SGS sessional dates

See SGS sessional dates calendar for holidays and University closures.

Remember to allow enough time after the examination for any required thesis corrections and for submission of the final corrected thesis to SGS. You are advised to hold your defense at least one month prior to the degree recommendation date for your desired convocation in November, June, or March (in abstentia, if requested).


Scheduling Tips: 

  • Approach potential examiners well in advance
  • Include all Administrative Assistants (for all exam committee members) in your correspondences
  • Not all PAC members need to be present at your defence
  • For in-person examinations, up to two members of the examination committee can participate and vote via video/teleconference, if necessary, provided they are on the line for the duration of the defense
  • Doodle is a free online scheduling tool that can facilitate scheduling. Offering too many options can be counterproductive. Schedule times with your supervisor and one PAC member first, before scheduling via doodle with the rest of your exam committee.

Your supervisor is responsible for contacting examiners and confirming their willingness to participate. You may contact them for availability once they have agreed to participate.

FOE Procedure

Final Oral Examinations are normally held in-person. Due to COVID-19 protocols all examinations are now conducted remotely (effective March 18, 2020 - present).

FOE Approvals and Required Documentation

IMS requires a PhD Final Oral Examination package submitted electronically for approval a minimum of nine working weeks prior to your proposed defense date*. 

The timeline allows for screening the thesis, vetting the examination committee, securing an examination chair, and provides sufficient time for your examiners to read your thesis and prepare for the examination (especially the appraiser who submits their appraisal one week prior to the exam). Exceptions to the timeline are not possible due to the large number of examinations that we process.

The examination package consists of the following components sent electronically to the PhD Graduate Program Assistant at (incomplete packages will not be accepted):

  1. PhD Final Oral Examination Nomination Form
  2. Copy of the thesis
  3. Thesis Submission Checklist
  4. Updated full Student CV
  5. Final PAC Meeting Report
  6. 1-page Thesis Abstract (double-spaced)
  7. FOE External Appraiser Nomination Form
  8. External Examiner CVs
  9. SGS Attestation of Remote Participation Form
  10. Departmental Waiver Request (+publication status)

The information entered in the PhD Final Oral Examination Nomination Form and FOE External Appraiser Nomination Form are used to create the official examination record; please ensure they are completed accurately (no typos, appropriate use of upper and lower case letters, etc.)

Additional Tips and Reminders

  • Ensure all examiner contact information is correct (especially important when IMS needs to contact examiners for follow-up and/or in case of exam emergency)
  • Include all administrative contact information (for additional peace of mind)
  • The submitted examination date/time is final, subject to IMS approval, and has been agreed upon by all parties in advance
  • The responsibilities of potential examiners must be communicated to them at the time of their recruitment by the supervisor, and agreed upon by the examiner in advance

NB: Collaborations, conflicts of interest (including shared academic departments) and/or issues with faculty appointments can cause significant delays to the examination approval process and may result in the need to replace the examiner and/or submit a new examination date. 

*Extra notification time is required over the University winter holidays in December (2 extra weeks)