General Exam Guidelines

The general examinations probe PhD students’ knowledge in core areas of physics and serve as a milestone that signals students’ readiness for research. Passing these examinations is required for the student to become a candidate for the PhD. 


Core Examination Areas

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


Eligibility and Format

Any physics graduate student is eligible for the general examination. The general examination consists 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. The student does not have to be enrolled in the course to complete the exam. 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 (fall courses), or not later than the last day of the following October (spring courses). 

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.