Preparing for the Written Candidacy Exams

You can get a list of sample problems for the exams from the Physics Graduate Office.  The list is long, and so far not carefully checked.  You may find a problem or two that is impossible, incomprehensible, irrelevant, confusing, or just plain bizarre.  There are probably some typos, since this material is fairly new.  If you find such problems, please send a comment to Gil Refael, so the problem can be repaired or removed.

First of all, the written exams are difficult, so unless you are possessed with the ghost of Feynman it's likely that you will have to do some serious studying to pass them.  Also, each exam can be attempted a maximum of three times.  Not passing on the third attempt could become an issue.   You should set aside a lot of time for studying, and go into an exam expecting to pass it.  First year students are expected to attempt both QM and CP at the end of the first year, meaning the summer exam session.  The October exam session is mainly for retakes, and not an alternative to the summer exam session.  Postponing an exam requires special permission from Frank Porter and a really good excuse.  It is not recommended that you focus on only one exam per year, as some faculty may consider accepting students who have successfully completed these exams over others, especially when space and funding are at issue.

Taking courses can help you prepare for the exams, particularly Ph106, Ph125, Ph127, and probably Ph135 and Ph136.  However do not expect classes alone to get you through the exams, it's not enough.  Taking a course is a great introduction to the material, but working out problems in a group is by far the best method of preparation.  Be sure to work lots of sample problems.  To make this task a lot more fun, get together in a group and work on the same problems (but work them independently).  When you are done, compare your solutions.  This can lead to some very interesting, and possibly heated, debates on the underlying physics.  And by the way, really work the problems out independently—working together, or having a solution to consult, will greatly diminish the value of doing sample problems.

SCHEDULING written exams is fairly flexible.  Exams are offered twice each year, two sessions for each exam over two weeks in June/July and two sessions for either exam during one week in October for retakes.  Exact dates will be posted several months ahead. Please email the PGO for the current schedule. You must schedule your written exams and sign-up well before the session begins.  Please check the schedule and notify the PGO via email with your session preference.  Summer Exams are offered at 10:00 am in Room 114 E. Bridge, the week following Commencement for Classical Physics (CP), and the week following the July 4th holidays for Quantum Mechanics (QM).  The exam sessions will be held on Tuesday and Thursday, and possibly Wednesday if there is a need. Each exam is three hours.  Maximum occupancy at any exam session is ten persons.  You should bring pens or pencils. Scratch paper and blue books will be provided.  You may bring a calculator, snacks or beverages, please do not bring lunch.  You must arrive at least five minutes before the exam start time as instructions will be given to everyone at the same time. If you arrive late, you will not be allowed extra time. Exams will be collected at the end of each session promptly at 1:00 pm.  You should be aware that grading takes an unknown length of time as each problem is graded by a different individual.  The average time is between two to three weeks. The CP exams will be sent to the graders at the end of the week of CP sessions. The QM exams will be sent to the graders at the end of the week of QM sessions.  You will be notified via email when you have either accumulated enough points to pass with partial grading, or when the final determination on borderline scores (approximately 50%) has been made by the exam committee.