General Exam

The General Examinations probe the student’s knowledge in core areas of physics and serve as a mile-stone that signals a student’s readiness for research. Currently, the core areas are:

  • Classical Mechanics
  • Classical Electrodynamics
  • Quantum Mechanics
  • Statistical Mechanics

Passing these examinations is required for the student to become a candidate for the PhD. The rules for the general examination are given here and some points are highlighted below.

Eligibility and Format

Any graduate student is eligible for the General Examination. The General Examination consist of four independently administered and graded Parts:

(1) Advanced Mechanics (corresponding to course PHYS 6110);
(2) Classical Electrodynamics and Field Theory (corresponding to course PHYS 6210);
(3) Quantum Mechanics (corresponding to course PHYS 6220);
(4) Statistical Mechanics (corresponding to course PHYS 6310).

Each Part consists of the final exam of the corresponding lecture (for Quantum Mechanics, only of PHYS 6220: Quantum Mechanics I). The student does not have to be enrolled in the course. The course lecturer provides the exam documentation to the Examination Committee and may also provide the midterm exams if they speak in the student's favor. The Examination Committee votes by simple majority to recommend whether the student passes. This decision is independent of the lecturer's course grade.
A student who fails a Part may take a "Retake Exam" at least three weeks after the Committee's decision but not later than the last day of the following March for Fall courses, or not later than the last day of the following October for Spring courses.
A student who has failed the Retake Exam of one or more Parts has failed the General Examination.
A student who has passed each Part has automatically passed the General Examination. The student must have successfully passed all Parts of the General Examination upon completion of the second year of graduate studies.

More information on the Qualifying Examinations and the regulations covering it are available from the Director of the Graduate Program.