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Unified Graduate Exam

The unified graduate exam consists of four subject areas, each with four questions and of  2 hr 40 min duration. The areas are:

  1. Mechanics
  2. Electromagnetism
  3. Quantum Mechanics
  4. Statistical Mechanics & Thermodynamics

 

Parts of the exam are offered on four days during the year:

 

FALL (week before term starts)

3. Quantum Mechanics
4. Statistical Mechanics & Thermodynamics

 

WINTER (week before, or first week of term, depending on calendar)

1. Mechanics
2. Electromagnetism

 

SPRING (first day of term)

1. Mechanics
2. Electromagnetism

 

SUMMER (week after Spring finals)

3. Quantum Mechanics
4. Statistical Mechanics & Thermodynamics

 

In total, the unified graduate exam is offered twice a year. Notice, also, that the pairs of areas do not simply alternate. Instead the same pair repeats, as this allows students to retake areas as soon as possible.

 

Passing the Exam

In each area, students may attempt as many as all four questions provided.

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 any three out of the 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 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 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.