Preliminary Exams

Students generally take the preliminary examination in January or May of their first year.

The preliminary exam consists of four sections: mechanics; electricity and magnetism (E&M); quantum mechanics; and thermodynamics and statistical mechanics (TSM).  Each student must complete two of the three problems given in each section. The exam is given on two consecutive mornings, with mechanics and E&M on the first day, and quantum and TSM on the second day.

No calculators or other electronic devices or other assistance may be used during the exam. The solution to each problem is to be written in a separate exam booklet, so each student turns in four exam booklets at the end of each day's 3-hour exam session. The faculty grade the exam booklets and then meet to determine which students have passed the exam.

It is necessary to study for the prelims. There are prelims-prep courses offered in the fall. Student-formed study groups are an effective preparation tool.

Links to previous years' exams are below:

January 1998 May 1998 January 1999 May 1999 January 2000 May 2000 January 2001 May 2001 January 2002 May 2002
January 2003 May 2003 January 2004 May 2004 January 2005 May 2005 January 2006 May 2006 January 2007 May 2007
January 2008 May 2008 January 2009 May 2009 January 2010 May 2010 January 2011 January 2012 May 2012 January 2013
May 2013 January 2014 January 2015 May 2015 January 2016 January 2017 May 2017 January 2018 May 2018 January 2019
May 2019 January 2020 August 2020 January 2021 May 2021 January 2022 May 2022 January 2023 May 2023 January 2024  


Possible other useful study aid can be found here