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Comprehensive Exam Requirements


About the Comprehensive Exam

There are two written comprehensive examinations designed to be taken at the end of the first semester. They are the final exams of the Classical Mechanics/E&M I (PHYS 7110) and QM I (PHYS 7220) courses. These final exams are administered by the Comprehensive Exam Committee. The committee includes two instructors for the two courses, as well as three more members. One of the extra three members is the committee chair. The chair oversees the process of putting together the exams.

Note: The Graduate School refers to the exam requirement for Master’s degrees as the “comprehensive exam.” This is not to be confused with the departmental comprehensive exam described above.

Comprehensive Exam Policy

Students taking the Comprehensive Exam will have three outcomes: Failed, Incomplete, or Passed. (Letter grades are not issued for this exam.) Students who fail a final exam but are otherwise in good academic standing are required to retake the relevant class (when offered again in the next year) and retake the relevant exam. An “incomplete” is reserved for cases when a student took the relevant class and did well on coursework (e.g. homework), but did not pass the corresponding final exam. In such cases, the student may choose to retake the exam in the next year without retaking the class.

The deadline for completing the Comprehensive Exam requirement is the third semester (that is, the first semester of the second year). Therefore, a student will have only two opportunities to pass the Comprehensive Exam. Failure to meet this requirement is cause for dismissal from the program.

Students who fail during their second year may remain in the program to complete the Spring semester of that year. In that last semester, a student may wish to take classes that can offer training for the next step in their career.

The Purpose of the Exam

The Comprehensive Exam is designed to assess graduate students' preparedness to continue the PhD program.

When the Exam Must Be Taken

The deadline for completing the Comprehensive Exam requirement is the third semester (that is, the first semester of the second year). Therefore, a student will have only two opportunities to pass the Comprehensive Exam. Failure to meet this requirement is cause for dismissal from the program. The first attempt will be taken during the final exam periods for Classical Mechanics/E&M I (PHYS 7110) and QM I (PHYS 7220).

Comprehensive Exam Preparation and Mentoring

In addition to the coursework associated with the Comprehensive Exam, students may prepare by seeking past exams and studying course material. Students taking the exam will be added to a Canvas Course with the old exams and other practice material.

Furthermore, students who need to retake the exam may request funding for a tutor. The tutor may be a more senior graduate student who has already taken the exam.