Qualifying Exam Requirement
The next Qualifier will be held on: January 18 & 19, 2023.
New Qualifier Requirement
Students enrolling in the Ph.D. degree beginning in the Fall term of 2021 will be required to satisfy the new Qualifier Examination requirement, which consists of two parts: Part A corresponds to the material in the Fall semester of the core graduate course sequence (PHYS 610 and PHYS 612) while Part B corresponds to the material in the Spring semester (PHYS 611 and PHYS 613). The requirement is that students satisfy both parts.
Each part of the requirement can be completed in one of two ways:
- Pass a section of the exam when it is given.
- Pass PHYS 610 & PHYS 612 (Part A), and PHYS 611 & PHYS 613 (Part B) with a grade of B or better.
- Courses taken at other institutions cannot be used to substitute for courses in these sequences.
Students enrolled prior to the Fall term of 2021 may either satisfy this new requirement, the requirement in place prior to this or be deemed to pass via a hybrid procedure discussed in the Transition Period section below.
Here are some previous exams:
|Part A||Part B|
|Fall 2022||Spring 2022|
Timing and the Qualifier Clock
The Qualifying Examination will be offered once per year prior to the beginning of each semester. Part A will be given prior to Fall semester and Part B prior to Spring semester.
Under ordinary circumstances, students will be permitted up to 4 (continuous) semesters to satisfy this requirement once the `’Qualifier Clock’’ has started. The Qualifier Clock may be paused at the discretion of the Director of Graduate Studies at a student’s request, but only under exceptional circumstances. Such circumstances may include medical issues, mental health issues, the need to care for a family member or some unexpected change in situation that significantly affects the student’s ability to study.
The system is designed so that most students should be able to satisfy the requirement within two semesters; the additional two semesters are permitted to allow students additional opportunities to satisfy the requirements, if needed.
The Qualifier Clock begins when
- A student attempts either section of the Qualifying Exam
A student has begun to take at least one class in the PHYS 610-611 sequence and at least one class in the PHYS 612-613 sequence.
- A student who enters the program with a Master’s Degree in physics, or more generally a student who has taken and done well in a substantial number of graduate-level physics courses prior to joining the program could choose to take the Part A of the Qualifying Examination prior to their first semester. Such students would have until the end of the Spring semester of their second year to satisfy the requirement, unless the Qualifier Clock is stopped for an exceptional reason.
- A student who enters the program with a strong well-rounded preparation in undergraduate Physics but limited or no experience with graduate-level courses would normally be expected to take PHYS 610 and PHYS 612 in their first semester and thus would have their Qualifier Clock begin at the beginning of their first Fall semester. Such students would have until the end of the Spring semester of their second year to satisfy the requirement, unless the Qualifier Clock is stopped for an exceptional reason.
- A student who enters the program with some gaps in their undergraduate preparation would find it prudent to close these gaps by taking some undergraduate classes in their first year and postpone taking one or both of the sequences of core graduate-level classes until their second year. Such students would have until the end of the Spring semester of their third year to satisfy the requirement unless the Qualifier Clock is stopped for an exceptional reason.
- Regardless of whether the Qualifier Clock is paused, a student is permitted:
- A maximum of two attempts at Part A of the Qualifier
- A maximum of two attempts at Part B of the Qualifier
- A maximum of two attempts to receive a grade of B or better for each of the core graduate-level classes; if a student begins taking one of these classes and withdraws from it after the drop/add period, it will count as an attempt unless there are substantial extenuating circumstances.
Recommended Paths to Satisfy the Requirement
While students are permitted to take the exams whenever they are offered, it is a strong recommendation by the Department that:
- As a general rule, students should satisfy the requirement by taking and passing the courses rather than the exam. There are three exceptions to this recommendation:
- Students who have already taken the core courses and did not achieve a grade of B or better in at least one, are encouraged to restudy the material in that course and take the appropriate section or sections of the Qualifying Exam.
- Students who enter the program having taken and done well in a substantial number of graduate-level physics courses (for example students with a Master’s Degree) should consider satisfying the requirement via the examination.
- Students who did extremely well in PHYS 610 and PHYS612 (grades of A in both) and who found the material to be largely straightforward may consider taking Part B of the exam.
- Students who enter the program without having taken and done well in a substantial number of graduate-level physics (for example students with a Master’s Degree) should not attempt Part A of the exam prior to their first semester. Such students will be well served by taking the recommended core classes.
- Students who enter the program without having taken a substantial number of graduate-level physics (for example students with a Master’s Degree) should in general not attempt Part B of the exam prior to their second semester. The exception to this recommendation is for students who did extremely well in PHYS 610 and 612 (grades of A in both) and who found the material to be largely straightforward and redundant with their prior knowledge.
- A student who enters the program with some gaps in their undergraduate preparation should postpone starting the Qualifier Clock and take some undergraduate classes in their first year and postpone taking one or both of the sequences of core graduate-level classes until their second year.
Criterion for passing the exam
There is no fixed score for passing the sections Qualifying Exam. In marginal cases, whether a student passes a given exam with a given score dependson:
- An assessment of the overall difficulty of the exam.
- The performance on the exam in the context of a student’s overall academic record.
Consider, for example, a student with an overall marginal score who would have been clearly passed had they not done poorly on one question dealing with quantum mechanics. If that student had done well in graduate-level quantum mechanics classes prior to the exam, the student would likely be passed. On the other hand, if that student had never taken a graduate level-class the student would likely not be passed.
Structure of the exam
Each part of the exam lasts four hours and consists of 4 questions, each of which may have multiple parts. Students will be graded on all four questions.
During the transition period, the style of the exam questions will likely be similar to our old qualifying exam, since some of the same questions may appear on both the new and old exams. As things progress it is expected that the new exam questions will more closely follow what is done in the core graduate classes.
As we change over to the new system, there will be students who enrolled prior to Fall 2021 in the program. These students can satisfy the requirement in one of three ways:
- Students can satisfy the old Qualifier requirement by passing both Part I (classical physics) and Part II (quantum physics).
- Students can satisfy the new Qualifier requirement.
- Students can satisfy a hybrid of the two with possible accommodations made due to the mismatch of the old and new Qualifier and old and new courses; the particular form that such a hybrid will take place depends on a student’s particular circumstances and needs to be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies.
In accommodating students who wish to pass via a hybrid of the requirements the general principle of the new requirement that enables students to satisfy the requirement by explicit exams or courses will be used. The following situations will generically be deemed as satisfying the requirement:
- A student who has passed with a B or better at least four of the following courses 601, 604, 606, 622 and 623.
- A student who has passed Part I (classical) of the old-style Qualifier and also passed with a B or better at least two of the following courses 604, 622 and 623.
- A student who has passed Part II (quantum) of the old-style Qualifier and also passed with a B or better at least two of the following courses 601, 604 and 606.
- While the new requirement cannot be satisfied by courses taken elsewhere (students with extensive experience with graduate course prior to joining the program would normally be expected to satisfy the requirement via the exam), courses taken elsewhere may be considered as replacements for our old core classes in cases where an enrolled student was prevented from taking the Qualifying Exam due to circumstances arising from the covid pandemic.
Students enrolled prior to Fall 2021 who have partially fulfilled the hybrid requirements may be unable to complete them in a straightforward way since the course offerings and exam structures have changed. In such situations
- In some cases, a student may be able to complete the requirement by taking the old-style Qual. (This option is viable for students who have either passed one part of the old-style Qual or have passed with a grade of B or better a number of our old-style core course.)
- In cases where none of the hybrid paths discussed above are viable, a student should arrange with the Director of Graduate for some alternative method of completing the requirements. This might include taking and passing one or more of the new-style courses, taking one of the new-style exams, or if agreeable to the student taking and passing an oral exam. The exact method agreed to will depend on the student’s particular academic circumstances.