Section Navigation: Graduate Programs
- For the most up-to-date information on the qualifying examinations for the Standard concentration of the Physics PhD program, including the exam schedule, please see http://complex.gmu.edu/phd/qualifier.html
- Students pursuing the Engineering Physics concentration take a different set of qualifying examinations. Please contact Prof. Chi Yang for information.
To qualify for a Ph.D, a student must pass an exam in each core subject:
- Classical Mechanics
- Classical Electrodynamics
- 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 need 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).
- Exams are offered 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
- 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, he/she may request a review. 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.
Exams will be administered online due to continued health concerns. Most likely, the candidates will need to install Respondus lock-down browser on their computer and take the exams in online proctored sessions. System requirements for Respondus include a stable internet connection, web-cam, and Windows or Mac operating system. We are also considering other options. Please contact the committee chair if you have any technical concerns.
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.