The purpose of this study is to investigate the process doctoral students go through in qualification exam. Within a grounded theory design, a series of in-depth interviews were carried out with six doctoral candidates to inquire into their thoughts and experiences. Data collection started four months before the qualification exam and ended approximately a month after the exam had been taken. A total of 127 pages of interview transcripts were produced as a result of interviews. The data from these interviews were analysed in three stages: (1) initial coding and theorizing; (2) selective coding and theorizing; (3) theoretical codes. The theoretical codes were generated from the codes using the constant comparative method. The analysis revealed five interrelated phases students go through in the qualification exam: Ambiguity and procrastination; Getting lost and finding ways; Getting on with the unavoidable: taking the exam; Relief or burnout after the exam, and Looking back with mixed feelings.