Qualifying examinations

  • As many already know, studying for the physics GRE and getting accepted into a graduate program is not the final hurdle in your physics career.
  • There are many issues current physics graduate students face such as studying for their qualifier, deciding upon a field of research, choosing an advisor, being an effective teaching assistant, trying to have a social life, navigating department politics, dealing with stress, utilizing financial aid, etc.

tweetie_brid
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Qualifying exams vs PGRE

Postby tweetie_brid » Wed Sep 05, 2012 2:44 am

I am curious about the major difference between the PGRE and the later qualifying exams you will take once your graduate studies have begun.

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midwestphysics
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Re: Qualifying exams vs PGRE

Postby midwestphysics » Fri Sep 07, 2012 11:47 am

The major difference is that you'll look back and say wow, feels like I had all the time in the world to study for the PGRE. :D

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quizivex
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Re: Qualifying exams vs PGRE

Postby quizivex » Sun Sep 09, 2012 3:54 am

Physics GRE: Tricky conceptual problems that should not take more than a minute if you know how to solve it. Many of them can be done in your head, and the ones that require calculations only have a few steps. 100 problems total. Multiple choice. You get a real score that will help or hurt your admissions chances.

Quals/Prelims: More complicated problems that often require a lot of algebra, integrals, manipulations etc, even though they deal with very simplistic systems like those on the PGRE. (e.g. instead of a multiple choice question about how a pendulum would behave on the moon on the PGRE, you might have to solve the lagrangian eqs. of motion of a double pendulum on the quals). Doing well is often not as much about one's ability to think, but about having seen similar problems in one of the published qual prep books or on released past versions of the university's exams. There are often fewer than ~10 problems total on the test. The test is generally pass/fail and your exact score is not as important.

You can see examples of what the difference is by looking at old tests. 4 old PGRE's are avilable online. You can find qual problems in prep books like "A Guide to Physics Problems (Part 1 and 2)" or "Problems and Solutions on (Mechanics, EM, Quantum, Stat mech etc)". Also, many grad programs have old tests posted on their websites. Here is Princeton's.

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twistor
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Re: Qualifying exams vs PGRE

Postby twistor » Mon Oct 15, 2012 1:14 pm

The PGRE gets you in to grad school. The qualifying exams lets you stay there.

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Izaac
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Re: Qualifying exams vs PGRE

Postby Izaac » Mon Oct 15, 2012 8:41 pm

I'd thought you'd say "The qualifying exams get you out of it."

tweetie_brid
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Qualifying examinations

Postby tweetie_brid » Sun Jan 27, 2013 1:33 am

Once you get past the PGRE. What about the MS and Phd qualifying exams.

What level is this at. From my research I ascertain it is at the level of advanced

undergraduate physics.


What about those qual. exams?

TakeruK
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Re: Qualifying examinations

Postby TakeruK » Sun Jan 27, 2013 3:09 am

The rules and format of quals are different in every school and every program, I think. Usually they will tell you about how their program work during the visit. If there is no visit, then they usually call you or Skype you and let you know. Also, the information is also usually clearly posted on the department website!

In general, these exams are at the level of the graduate coursework you do in the program! The exams usually happen in 2nd or 3rd year, after you have finished all (or most) of your classes. They are designed to generally test your knowledge of the fundamentals of your core classes. Sometimes they also want to test how well you know your research area and/or the breadth of your knowledge in research areas outside of your field. Sometimes it is a written exam, sometimes an oral exam, or sometimes both! In my program, the exam is oral only and consists of a defense of the research work performed thus far followed by questions mostly about our research topic.

tweetie_brid
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Re: Qualifying examinations early study plan

Postby tweetie_brid » Thu Feb 14, 2013 6:30 pm


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quizivex
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Re: Qualifying examinations

Postby quizivex » Thu Feb 14, 2013 10:58 pm

I don't know much about the resources you mentioned.

But the best resource I think is the series "Problems and Solutions on X (Major American Universities Ph.D. Qualifying Questions and Solutions)". They have at least four books on the major topics including mechanics, E&M, Quantum and Stat Mech/Thermo.

Another good one is the A Guide to Physics Problems series, aka. the red and blue books.

bfollinprm
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Re: Qualifying examinations

Postby bfollinprm » Fri Feb 15, 2013 1:16 am

Schools (such as, for example, UCSD and MIT) have large repositories of old exams. Good for getting a feel of what a qual can look like, and the best practice is doing, so working through these problems is a good way of getting ready.

EDIT: a comparison of quals at some top universities can be found here.





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