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Unified Graduate Exam

Students entering Fall 2015 can elect to use the “New Scheme” or the “Old Scheme” until they have reached the master’s and Ph.D. deadlines for attempting the exam (or have passed).

There are two four-part unified graduate exams offered each year at the beginning of the Spring and Fall terms. These are used to determine passing at both master’s and Ph.D. levels under both the New Scheme and the Old Scheme.

The four subject areas, each with four questions and of 2hrs 40 min duration, are:

  1. Mechanics

  2. Electromagnetism,

  3. Quantum Mechanics

  4. Statistical Mechanics & Thermodynamics

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The New Scheme

Students may attempt as many as all four questions provided in 2 hours 40 minutes.

Master’s Level Exam Pass

In determining pass/fail at the master’s level, two problems in each area for which the student received the highest or second-highest scores will be counted, even though a student may have attempted three or even all four questions in the area. Then a percentage score for each subject area is calculated based on the two highest-scoring problems.The nominal pass/fail level is 50% of the available point total for each area, but the actual percentage will be adjusted by the Exam Committee. This translates into 10 or more points (the sum of the 2 best scores) to pass an area at the master’s level.

In order to pass the unified graduate exam at the master’s level, the student has to pass (either in a single exam or over several exams) any three out of four subject areas. Individual areas do not need to be retaken unless attempting to pass at the Ph.D. level (see below).

 

Ph.D Level Exam Pass

In determining pass/fail at Ph.D. level, the three highest-scoring problems in each subject area are counted, even though a student may have attempted all four questions in the area. Then a percentage score is calculated for each area based on the three highest problems.The nominal pass/fail level is 50% of the available point total for each area, but the actual percentage will be adjusted by the Exam Committee. This translates into 15 or more points (the sum of the 3 best scores) to pass an area at the Ph.D. level.

In order to pass the unified graduate exam at the Ph.D. level, the student has to pass (either in a single exam or over several exams) all four subject areas. Individual areas do not need to be retaken when passed at the Ph.D. level.

 

To reiterate:

Subject areas can be passed individually at either the master’s or Ph.D. level. They do not need to be retaken if passed at the Ph.D. level. However, a student needing to pass an area at the Ph.D. level will have to retake an area that has only been passed at the master’s level.

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The Old Scheme

This uses the same set of four areas listed above, but has a different way of determining pass/fail, which aggregates the scores across all the areas.

 

Master’s Level Exam Pass

In determining pass/fail at the master’s level, two problems in each area for which the student received the highest or second-highest scores will be counted, even though a student may have attempted three or even all four questions in the area. Then an overall percentage score is calculated for the whole exam, based on the two highest problems in each area, aggregating across all areas.The nominal pass/fail level is 50% of the available point total for the whole exam, but the actual percentage will be adjusted by the Exam Committee.

 

Ph.D Level Exam Pass

In determining pass/fail at Ph.D. level, the three highest-scoring problems in each area are counted, even though a student may have attempted all four questions in the area. Then a percentage score for the whole exam is calculated based on the three highest problems, aggregating across all four areas. The nominal pass/fail level is 50% of the available point total for the whole exam, but the actual percentage will be adjusted by the Exam Committee.

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The material covered by the unified graduate exam is primarily at the level of advanced undergraduate physics, but up to one third of the problems test core graduate level material.