Frequently Asked Questions

What is the DQE?
The Departmental Qualification Exam consists of multiple-choice questions covering basic areas of grammar and word usage: spelling, punctuation, plurals and possessives, agreement, modifiers, confusing word sets, and principal verb parts. The department has offered the DQE since 1974. It is based on a test given at the University of North Carolina, but it has been refined many times.

Why is it required?
The exam ensures that students going into MCJ writing and editing classes are at generally the same level in understanding and using written language. Otherwise, students have trouble in class and dominate the instructor's time and attention. The result is a lower level of learning for everyone. In addition, spaces in these classes are limited, and an unqualified student shouldn't take a seat away from a qualified one.

When it is offered?
The DQE is given twice per semester. Exam dates will be scheduled several months in advance and will typically fall before the beginning of registration periods. Special exam dates for individuals are not offered. Typically, the workshops run from 9 a.m. to noon on the first Saturday and the exam is from 9 a.m. to noon on the second Saturday.

How much does it cost?
The fee for the exam is $50. It is offered as a non-credit course through the Division of Continuing and Global Education, which requires payment by check (at CGE) or credit card/cash (at Joyal cashier). Visit or call (559) 278-0333 for registration details.

Do I sign up in advance?
PRE-REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED. On-site registration is not accepted. You should register early with the Division of Continuing and Global Education to ensure your seat.

What is the format of the exam?
The DQE is administered in two parts. A three-hour review workshop will be offered the first day of each session. Then, the one-hour exam will be offered on the second day of each session. The two-part workshop/exam format is designed to help students direct their own course of self-study in their weakest areas.

What will the workshop cover?
The workshop will be in a lecture format, with a course packet available for self-study. The workshop will review the areas covered by the DQE, with sample questions and discussion. However, the workshop will provide no answers to specific exam questions.

Do I need to bring anything?
On workshop day, you may take notes as needed. Roll will be taken. On exam day, a photo ID is REQUIRED to enter the exam room. You will need some kind of visual verification of who you are before you can take the exam. A Scantron form and a pencil will be provided.

What is a passing grade?
You must get 70 percent of the questions right. Typical DQE scores range from 50 to 95 percent.

How do I find out if I passed?
At the exam, you will be assigned a unique code. Results will then be posted outside the Mass Communication and Journalism Department office under that code within two days following the exam. The MCJ office is located in the McKee Fisk building, Room 236. Results also will be posted on Blackboard.

What if I don't pass?
Take the DQE again. You may take it a total of three times. Make sure to prepare by planning a course of self-study before you give it another shot.

What if I don't pass after three times?
Make an appointment to talk with the DQE administrator. Special requests to take the exam again will be considered on a case-by-case basis, and will be considered by the DQE administrator and the MCJ Department chair. But if you fail repeatedly, consider whether mass communication is the field for you. All media jobs depend quite heavily on writing.

How can I prepare?
A course packet is available for download after you register for the exam. In addition to the self-study packet, the department recommends three books:

  • "Working with Words: A Handbook for Media Writers and Editors," by Brian S. Brooks, James L. Pinson and Jean Gaddy Wilson. (With exercise workbook.)
  • "When Words Collide: A Media Writer's Guide to Grammar and Style," by Lauren Kessler and Duncan McDonald. (With exercise workbook.)
  • "English Simplified," by Blanche Ellsworth and John A. Higgins.

These books are often used as texts in English or linguistics classes and should be available either in the Kennel Bookstore and online.

I've done well in writing, so why require an exam?
Most of your previous writing has likely been creative or academic, for an audience of one. Writing for the mass media requires great precision, and writers don't have time to think about the basics. A solid knowledge of language is absolutely necessary for materials sent to hundreds or thousands of people.

Can anyone take the DQE?
Yes, the exam is basic language assessment, too. It can provide a useful evaluation of anyone's language skills. It has been offered for almost 40 years and has established itself as a benchmark for beginning media writers.