Honors Exam

Honors Exam

Honors exams last approximately 90 minutes and take place in March or April in person at Harvard Medical School or by video conferencing. The HMS student will defend their thesis in an oral exam before an exam committee.

Exam Committee Members

  • A member of the HMS Honors in a Special Field Committee serves as the exam chair
  • Two experts in the student's research field who are HMS assistant professors or above and who do not have any direct role in the student’s thesis research or work closely with the student’s research supervisor serve as examiners
  • A representative of the student’s academic society may also be present

Exam Day

  • Introductions: The exam chair will call the exam to order followed by introductions of the student candidate and the committee members.
  • Student Presentation (10 minutes): The honors candidate will present an overview of their research. This is the time for the student to prioritize and present essential information. There will be plenty of time later in the exam to discuss the details of the work.
  • Questions and Discussion (45-60 minutes): The examiners will ask questions that may cover thesis content, the general thesis research field or methods, including statistical analysis, instrumentation and materials. The student will respond to the questions asked and exhibit the abilities to speak and reason well extemporaneously while in front of a committee, acknowledge the limitations of their work and relate their work to the larger research field.  An underlying assumption is that an honors thesis is not a PhD dissertation.
  • The exam  chair dismisses the student when there are no more questions and the student leaves.
  • Committee Deliberations: The members of the committee discuss the candidate’s thesis and examination.

The Honors in a Special Field Committee makes the final decisions on whether or not a student qualifies for honors and what distinction will be designated. Students will be notified of their distinction in mid-May prior to graduation.