Department of Physics Ph.D. Candidacy Exam

This page describes the Ph.D. candidacy exam required for students in the physics Ph.D. program. The exam is usually taken upon completion of the Ph.D. core courses and after passing the M.S. qualifying exam. For most students this is in the second or third year of their program. Students wishing to take this exam earlier should consult with the department.

The exam consists of three separate tests covering material in classical mechanics, electricity and magnetism and quantum mechanics. The questions are at the level of advanced undergraduate physics and the Ph.D. core courses and cover topics outlined in the exam syllabus (PDF). A standard list of formulas and constants (PDF) will be available on each exam. Each of the four tests is two hours long and the exam is usually given over either a weekend or two consecutive Saturdays. Use of calculators will not be allowed while taking this exam. Any calculation will be one that can be done by hand.

A link to recent exams is given below. Copies of exams from previous years are available in the department office. One of the best ways to prepare for this exam is to "take" the old exams; that is try to solve the problems under exam conditions. Solutions for the problems on old exams will not be provided.


Upcoming Ph.D. Candidacy Exam Dates and Times

Please note that the exam patterns and tested subjects are changed.

The next Ph.D. candidacy exams are planned on the following three days:

  • Classical Mechanics: Tuesday, August 22, 2023, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 a.m.
  • Electricity and Magnetism: Wednesday, August 23, 2023, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 a.m.
  • Quantum Mechanics: Thursday, August 24, 2023, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 a.m.
Please be aware of the following:
  • The exam will be held in the week before the fall 2023 classes start.
  • The Ph.D. candidacy has now only three sections. Previously passed Modern sections will be taken into account for average scores.
  • The duration for the candidacy exam sections is now increased to 3 hours. All exam problems can be solved, but only the three highest graded solutions count toward the final score.

Please note:

  • Register with Dr. Glatz by email ( at least two weeks before the exam. Walk-ins might not be possible. If you require accommodations, you must start the process at least six weeks before the exams (see below).
  • No cell phones or other electronic devices are allowed during the exams! If one of these devices is seen being used by a student during the exam, their exam will be disqualified.     
  • Accommodations for this examination will only be allowed with official documentation from the University’s Disabilities Resource Center (DRC). Note that it may take several weeks to obtain official documentation, so contact the DRC well before the exam date. The DRC coordinates accommodations for students with disabilities. It is located on the 4th floor of the Health Services Building and can be reached at 815-753-1303 (V) or Also, please contact Dr. Glatz privately as soon as possible so you discuss your accommodations.