Qualifying Exam

To be officially admitted to the Physics Ph.D. program, graduate students must pass the Departmental Qualifying Examination (hereafter referred to as “QE”). At the same time, the QE plays the role of the required final examination for the M.S. degree.

Administration of the QE
The QE is prepared, administered, and graded by the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination Committee (QE-Committee), whose chair is appointed by the Department Chair. The QE-Committee consists of at least four members of the graduate faculty selected by the Chair of the QE-Committee and approved by the Department Chair.

The QE will be given twice a year during the first week of the Fall and Winter Semesters. The QE consists of two written parts. Part 1 (Part 2) will take place on Tuesday (Thursday) of the first week of the Semester from 5:00 to 8:00 pm. Students who need to take the QE will be informed in due course about the location of the exam of the QE, along with other pertinent information.

Incoming students must take the QE at the beginning of their 1st Semester (“free shot”). The main purpose of the “free shot” is to acquaint new students with the QE. This “free shot” QE should be regarded mainly as a diagnostic test. In addition, each student has two more chances to take and pass the QE at the beginning of their 3rd and 4th Semesters.

Content of the QE
Both parts of the QE will test problem solving skills and will cover four major topics in Physics. Part 1 (given on Tuesday) will have two Classical Mechanics and two Quantum Mechanics problems, while Part 2 (given on Thursday) will have two Electricity and Magnetism and two Thermodynamics and Statistical Physics problems. The first (second) problem in each topic will be at an undergraduate (introductory graduate) level.

QE books will be provided with all necessary instructions. All work must be done in the QE books.

Assessment of the QE
Each exam will be graded by two QE-Committee members working independently of one another. Neither grader will make any marks on the paper being graded. On each problem the results of the two grades are averaged unless there is a significant discrepancy, in which case the score will be resolved in conference. To preserve anonymity during grading, each QE book will be identified by a letter code (assigned and kept secret by the Chair of the QE-Committee) instead of the name of the student.

Each time the QE is given the QE-Committee will decide on a minimum score which will be required for qualification at the Ph.D. and M.S. levels, roughly S1~60% and S2~40%, respectively.

  • Students who score above S1 (S2) are passed at Ph.D. (M.S.) level by the QE-Committee.
  • If in all three attempts a student scores below S2, he/she should not qualify at Ph.D. level
  • If at least in one of the three attempts a student scores between S2 and S1, his/her level of qualification at the Ph.D. level will be decided by the graduate faculty based on his/her performance in: (1) research (as judged by his/her research advisor and by other graduate faculty), and (2) course work. Each such case will be decided by a secret faculty vote; for pass a 2/3 of graduate faculty vote will be required.
  • If at least in one of the three attempts a student scores between 20% and S2, his/her level of qualification at the M.S. level will be decided by the faculty based on the overall academic performance of the student.

Students typically will be informed of the outcome of their QE during the third week of the Semester.

Additional information
To indicate the level of coverage of each topic, the following table lists representative textbooks and the respective course numbers for this department. The introductory graduate courses should have been taken by every student after the first year.


Intro Undergraduate

Advanced Undergrad

Intro Graduate


Halliday & Resnick or equivalent (Phys 2750)

Marion & Thornton (Phys 4140)

Goldstein (Phys 8610)

Quantum Mech.

Any modern physics textbook (Phys 3150)

Liboff, Griffiths (Phys 4800, 4810)

Sakurai (Phys 8710)

Electricity & Magnetism

Halliday & Resnick or equivalent (Phys 2760)

Griffiths (Phys 4100, 4130)

Jackson (Phys 8620)

Thermo & Stat. Phys.

Halliday & Resnick or equivalent (Phys 2750)

Reif (Phys 4120)

Huang (Phys 8680)

For each topic, the level of difficulty of the first problem typically lies in the introductory to advanced undergraduate range. The second problem is typically at the advanced undergraduate to introductory graduate level.

To aid students in their preparations, copies of previous QEs may be obtained upon request from the Chairperson of the QE-Committee.

Contact Info

Prof. Suchi Guha
Director of Graduate Studies
223 Physics Building
Department of Physics and Astronomy
University of Missouri
Columbia, MO 65211
email: guhas@missouri.edu
phone: 573-884-3687