Comprehensive Exams

The comprehensive exam serves two purposes:

  • It ensures that you have mastered a minimum level of well well-rounded physics knowledge consistent with an undergraduate physics curriculum as this is necessary to move on towards a Ph.D.
  • It helps quickly identify areas where students may be under-prepared for the graduate curriculum, allowing us to take early proactive steps to remedy the situation for the student. Most students pass the comprehensive eventually, but it sometimes takes a couple attempts. We want all of you to succeed in the Ph.D. program and we hope that every class has a 100% pass rate.

The exam is administered in five two-hour sessions, one per topic, over a week, and covers five topics:

  • Classical Mechanics,
  • Electromagnetism,
  • Modern Physics,
  • Quantum Mechanics,
  • Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics.

The comprehensive exam is offered during the first week of the Fall and Spring semesters.

Materials for the exam:

  • You are allowed to bring a single-sided sheet of notes for each topic.
  • Integration tables will be made available to you during each exam.

The detailed rules for grading the comprehensive exam are below:

  • The exam is mandatory to take each sitting (September/January) until you pass.  You must pass within the three sittings to remain in the Ph.D. program.
  • Each topic is scored individually. In order to pass, you need an overall average of 60% to pass (lower to 55% during your first sitting), along with no score less than 25% on any topic and only one topic can have a score less than 40%.
  • Upon completion of your first attempt, you can record your scores. Once you have a score for each topic recorded, in subsequent sittings you can take whatever combination of topics you wish.  Only the highest score you have ever received will go into the final evaluation of passing/failing. For example, if you have a 60% on all topics but a 30% on Quantum, you can just go in and retake Quantum each subsequent time to get the score up, or you can also retake Classical in the hopes of getting a better score to average out the Quantum without fear of losing the 60%.
  • Each student’s name will be anonymous through the grading of the comprehensive exam in the graduate program in physics at UNH. The final outcome for each exam is discussed and decided at a special faculty meeting. On a student’s first attempt, which has to take place upon their arrival in the graduate program in physics at UNH, any discussion of the results will be limited to extraordinary circumstances. At subsequent attempts, considerations in borderline cases will also allow for faculty input, for example from the student's research advisor or TA supervisor, with the focus on whether the student has demonstrated mastery of the material on the exams to warrant a pass on the comprehensive exam. 

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