The Comprehensive Examination

Please also see the Graduate College requirements for the Comprehensive Examination.

After completing a major portion of the required course work and satisfying the computing skills requirement, the student must pass the comprehensive examination. The Department recommends at least five people for committee membership to the Graduate Division, which makes the final appointments. The committee should be chaired by the student's research advisor. By serving as the Chair, this person agrees to supervise the student during their dissertation research. One committee member must come from outside of the Department to serve as a representative of the Graduate School. Requests to take the examination must be made to the Graduate Coordinator at least three weeks in advance of the date of the examination. 

The student will write a 2,000 to 4,000 word paper on a topic in their chosen sub-field that is relevant to their thesis work. This paper must be presented to the committee at least one week in advance of the scheduled oral exam. The student will make a presentation at the oral examination based upon this paper, and will be examined on the contents of the talk, the paper, and works listed in the paper's bibliography. The bibliography must include at least one recent article from a peer-reviewed journal not authored by the student or the student's advisor. In addition, the committee may ask questions at the oral examination that cover the entire field of physics plus any related material (such as mathematics or chemistry) considered relevant by the examining committee. 

In order to pass the comprehensive exam, the student must receive passing grades on both the written and oral components of the exam. The overall grade on this examination, determined by the examining committee, will be "Honors," "Satisfactory," or "Unsatisfactory."

Comprehensive exam checklist

  Unsatisfactory Basic Intermediate Advanced
Description of 
Research Areas
Formulation of 
Design of 
Experiment and
Knowledge of 
General Physics

The checklist will be filled out after the comprehensive exam and retained as a part of the student's records. The student's thesis advisor will discuss the results with the student.

Download a template form