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Doctor of Philosophy in Physics

Department of Physics and Astronomy

Qualifying Exams

☞  Exam Policy

☞  Exam Schedule

☞  Study Guide

☞  Previous Exams

☞  Exam Committee - contact

This site is always under construction.
Please email your constructive suggestions to the Exam Committee Chair.

Exam Policy

To qualify for a Ph.D, a student must pass an exam in each core subject:

  • classical mechanics
  • electromagnetism
  • quantum mechanics
  • statistical mechanics

The purpose of qualifying exams is to ensure that the Ph.D. candidates:

  • Meet the minimum standards of knowledge recognized by a physics Ph.D.
  • Possess the independent analytical thinking skill needed for successful thesis research


  • Each subject exam is a written exam, three hours long
  • Open book policy: one textbook of student's choice is allowed
  • A simple or scientific calculator may be needed
  • Separate custom notes, smart-phones and computers are not allowed
  • Students provide their own paper and binding


  • It is the responsibility of each student to prepare for the exams irrespective of prior experience in the exam subjects. Students should expect to┬áneed additional preparation beyond that required for the homework and exams in the corresponding courses.
  • A qualifying exam passed in the first attempt waives the requirement to take the corresponding graduate course (the opposite does not apply).

Exam Administration:

  • Exams are offerred twice a year, in the last week of summer/winter break
  • Students must register for exams by emailing the Exam Committee Chair at least one week in advance. Please include your name, G#, and specify which exams you intend to take.
  • Students may take any combination of exams at a time
  • Students can retake any exam any number of times prior to the start of their fourth year
  • In case of a time conflict, a student may request to take an exam at the time of another scheduled exam in the same week. Permission of the Exam Committee Chair is required. Other ad-hoc exam times cannot be arranged, regardless of reason.

Exam Preparation, Proctoring and Grading:

  • Preparer and grader names are posted here
  • Every effort will be made to grade the exams in about two weeks
  • Students will be informed by email of their scores and pass/fail outcome
  • Exam solutions will not be provided. Past exams can be found here

Review and Complaints

  • After the grades are reported, students (and their mentors) may review exams and solutions in the Physics Office (Planetary Hall #203, ask Brooke Vaughn). Making copies of exams or solutions is not allowed.
  • If a student believes the grade is not accurate, they may complain. The student must first contact the grader and request a meeting to discuss the grade. If no resolution is reached, the student may submit a formal request to the Exam Committee Chair for an independent review - the Committee will meet to discuss the grade and make the final joint decision.

Exam Schedule (January 2023)

Exam options:

Exams will be administered either on campus or online in live Zoom sessions, depending on the amount of interest and availability of proctors. Every candidate is free to choose one of these options, assuming that both will be offerred. Please indicate your preference when you register. All candidates will take the same exams regardless of their choice, work the same amount of time and in the same conditions to the extent made possible by their choice. Please be advised that both options carry certain risks. An online exam can be voided if unlikely technical problems cause a too long interruption of internet connection or webcam/microphone feed. An in-person exam may carry fundamental risks to your health despite all precautions.

Online exams, if offered, will be administered in live Zoom sessions at scheduled times (see below). Every candidate will need a computer with Zoom app installed (visit, stable broadband internet connection, webcam and microphone. It is the responsibility of each candidate to ensure good and quiet working conditions. Exam problems will be delivered on Blackboard at the beginning of the exam, and students will work on paper in front of the webcam. At the end of the exam (after full three hours), students will remain in the overtime Zoom session to make photos or scans of their work, until they upload it on Blackboard. A proctor will be available to answer questions during the exam and help with technical issues until the work is successfully submitted.

All standard rules for taking qualifying exams will apply (students provide their own paper and binding, etc.).

Classical Mechanics:

  • Tuesday, January 17, 2023  ⚫  9:00 am - noon
  • Zoom login or campus location will be emailed to registered candidates


  • Tuesday, January 17, 2023  ⚫  1:00 pm - 4:00 pm
  • Zoom login or campus location will be emailed to registered candidates

Quantum Mechanics:

  • Wednesday, January 18, 2023  ⚫  9:00 am - noon
  • Zoom login or campus location will be emailed to registered candidates

Statistical Mechanics:

  • Wednesday, January 18, 2023  ⚫  1:00 pm - 4:00 pm
  • Zoom login or campus location will be emailed to registered candidates

Study Guide

Exam Style

  • The exams emphasize problem-solving skills and analytical thinking. Students should expect to see original problems that require advanced knowledge in subject areas posted below. Beyond that, basic physics knowledge across subjects is needed in all exams. Given the exam emphasis and open-book policy, the listed areas aim to closely approximate, not exhaust, the scope of the exams.
  • Problems from the past qualifying exams, and listed or similar textbooks, are the best material for practice.

Exam Topics

Qualifying Exam Committee

Committee Members:

Exam Preparers (August 2022)

  • Classical mechanics: Paul So
  • Electrodynamics: Bob Weigel
  • Statistical mechanics: Fereshte Ghahari Kermani
  • Quantum mechanics: Predrag Nikolic

Graders (August 2022)

  • Classical mechanics: Paul So
  • Electrodynamics: Hongwei Sheng
  • Statistical mechanics: Yuri Mishin
  • Quantum mechanics: Predrag Nikolic

Department of Physics and Astronomy
College of Science

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General questions and requests for additional information should be directed to the program director.