Qualifying Exam

Ph.D. qualifying examination

The Ph.D. qualifying examination is required by The University Graduate School. All students must take the qualifying exam in August at the end of their first year. A second attempt is allowed at the end of the second year. For this specific purpose only, students who entered graduate school in January will follow the same schedule as students who entered the following August. A student may not take the qualifying exam more than twice. If you do not attempt the qualifying examination at the required time, this constitutes an automatic failure.

The examination consists of two five-hour written tests covering the subject matter of mechanics/relativity, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, and thermodynamics/statistical mechanics at the level of the first-year core graduate courses in physics. Passing the qualifying exam is based not only on the student’s performance on the written examination, but also on their performance in courses and, in particular, in research. Passing the exam represents judgment of the faculty, based on all available evidence, on whether a student should become a Ph.D. candidate.

For Biophysics track students, the qualifying examination consists of two parts:

  1. A specially designated part (normally on the first day) of the Physics qualifying examination, covering theoretical mechanics, electromagnetism and statistical physics at the level of P506, P521, P556
  2. A separate exam in Biophysics, covering topics in basic biophysics and 8 mathematical biology

Part (a) must be taken for the first time at the end of the first year of study, in August. A second attempt is allowed at the end of the second year. With advance approval of the graduate advisor, a student may be granted permission to attempt part (a) before undertaking the first year of courses. Such an attempt will count as one of the two allowed attempts.

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