Philosophy books stacked on a table
The Graduate Reading Program (policy found here) of primary sources is required of all Ph.D. degree candidates. The program is divided into three parts with reading lists corresponding to a threefold chronological division of the history of philosophy. List I ranges over texts from the pre-Socratics to Averroes, List II over texts from Aquinas to Kant, and List III over texts from Hegel to Wittgenstein.

The purpose of these examinations is to evaluate a student's capacity to understand classical texts in philosophy. The examinations are open-book: the student brings approved editions of the relevant texts to the examination (the lists of approved editions in the old exam format are available here and the list of approved editions for the new exam format are available here). In answering a question, students should not simply copy passages from the text; short citations are appropriate but the answers should be formulated in one's own words.

To be admitted as a candidate for the Ph.D. degree, a student must pass an examination on one of the reading lists (I,II, or III). To qualify for the Ph.D. degree, a student must pass an examination on a second list, thus passing examinations on any two of the three reading lists. Both examinations must be passed by the end of the semester in which the dissertation proposal is approved.

Graduate Reading Examinations for each of the three Lists are held every semester on the date scheduled in the Academic Calendar for comprehensive examinations for graduate students, and are administered only at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. All three parts of the reading program will be available on each of these two examination periods, but no student may attempt more than one part in a given two-day examination period. No student may attempt any part of the three-part examination more than two times.

Each examination is divided into two parts with six questions on each part. The two parts of an examination are administered on successive days. On each of the successive days students taking the examination are given four hours in order to answer four of the six questions. The completed examination thus includes a total of eight and only eight answers, four for each part. If a student completes the exam with fewer than four questions answered on either day, the exam as a whole will be considered insufficient and will not be graded. The student will receive an automatic grade of F for the entire exam attempt.

Essay topics will be contributed, and the examination graded, by the reading program committee, consisting of seven members appointed from the faculty by the dean: six as members and one as the Chair. Each of the eight essays will be corrected by two committee members, who will grade them on a scale of A, B, C, (including + and -) and F. The final mark for each essay will be the average of the marks of the two correctors. If the marks assigned the same answer by the two faculty members differ by four or more grade steps (e.g., a B- and an A) or if one corrector passes the answer and the other fails it, the Chair is responsible for marking the question, and the final mark will be the average of all three grades. The average of the final eight marks constitutes the grade for that part of the Graduate Reading Program Examination. An average below B- is a failing grade, requiring that the student retake the examination and indicating some question about the student's ability and qualifications to continue in graduate work. The student may retake the examination only once. A grade of B- indicates work that is acceptable, but in comparison with the work of peers clearly in need of improvement. Examination grades will be recorded on student transcripts as either "pass" or "fail". A passing grade on the first attempt at an exam will be recorded as such. A failing grade will only be recorded after a failed second attempt at the same exam. Students with an A or A+ average will be publicly recognized for the superior quality of their examination with the grade recorded on their transcript as "pass with distinction".