PhD Written Exam

The Department sets a General Written Examination at the end of spring semester of the first year based on the subject material in the two graduate core courses 20.420 and 20.440. The Graduate Program Committee constructs this examination and arranges for its grading and adjudicating of the students’ performances. Students must sit for this examination after the first two semesters in residence.

The examination is given in one day (2 questions, each two hours long, open book and notes). Questions focus on material from each of the two core subjects.

The purpose of the exam is to assess how well students can integrate and apply the fundamental tools and approaches laid out in the core curriculum. Mastery of the material in the core subjects is an important part of this, and students’ grades in those courses provide one measure of their accomplishments to date. Equally important is that students are able to go beyond the compartmentalized nature of the material in those courses, and solve problems that cross the various subject boundaries. The exam is designed to provide that additional type of evaluation. Copies of previous Written Examinations are available in the First Year Office as well as online through the BE Academic Office.

In considering the students' successful completion of the written exam, the Graduate Program Committee considers as an integrated whole the student's performance in the core subjects, other subjects, and the student's progress in pursuing a research program, along with their performance on the exam itself. If the Committee deems a student as having successfully satisfied all of the above as an integrated whole, they become a Qualified Doctoral Registrant and are eligible to sit for the Oral Examination in the second year.

The Graduate Program Committee Chair will notify students and their advisors of the results of the Written Exam. Occasionally, students whose performance on the exam, while passing overall, is highly deficient in one area or another may be given a Conditional Pass. The student must then successfully accomplish additional work specified by the Committee in order to make up the deficiency and be allowed to proceed further.