Qualifying Exams for the Ph.D. Programs
To ensure that students in the Ph.D. programs are well-prepared for research in a chosen area, Ph.D. qualification is required. Qualification (also known as “admission to candidacy”) is obtained after passing written and oral exams. The three written exams test the student’s mastery of knowledge in the areas of Theory, Systems, and Programming Languages. The oral exam tests a student’s research capabilities; to pass, a student must be judged capable in the academic elements that constitute the research process. A student is allowed only two attempts to pass an exam. Only failed areas need be retaken.
The discussion here and below first applied to the Fall 2005 semester. The written Theory Exam information was updated in April 2009. Other changes are possible in future semesters.
Students are allowed at most two attempts to pass the qualifying exams. Only the failed areas need be retaken. Deadlines for taking the exams are given in the following table.
The result of an exam may be Pass, Fail, or Conditional Pass. For a conditional pass, the Committee will decide what condition the student must meet. For example, the student could be required to take a course or do some other assigned task.
|Written and Oral Qualifying
|For Students Entering the Program With a|
|Bachelor's Degree in CS||Master's Degree (not necessarily in CS)|
|First attempt at exams||5th semester||3rd semester||The semester during which they complete 24 credit hours|
|Second attempt at exams||6th semester||4th semester||The following semester|
- Students in the "old program" (pre-Fall 2003) do not take written qualifying exams.
- For these purposes, the semester following Spring is Fall. (Summer is ignored.)
The written qualifying exam tests three areas: Theory, Systems, and Programming Languages.
Theory Exam Information
The Theory exam will last 2-1/2 hours and cover topics in algorithms, complexity, computability, and formal languages. Topics come from CS 430 and CS 530. Notes (including all definitions and statements of the theorems) from the relevant chapters from the reference books will be provided together with writing paper. No other books, notes, or other help (calculators, cell phones, etc.) are allowed, except for writing implements. The difficulty level of the exam will be comparable to final exams from CS 530 (or see the sample exams). Topics from CS 430 are required at a level of rigor consistent with the study guide. It is recommended that students take CS 535 to attain a sufficient level of rigor.
Systems Exam Information
The Systems exam will last 2 hours and include topics from CS 450 and CS 550. The exam will be closed-book, closed-notes.
Programming Languages Exam Information
The Programming Languages exam will last 2 hours and include topics from CS 536 (and from CS 440 as prerequisite material). The exam will be closed-book, closed-notes.
The results of the written exams will be available within ten days of the exam. After that, a student who has failed a subject has ten days to submit a written request for re-examination of the exam to the PhD coordinator. The request must include an explanation of why the student believes the score of the exam is incorrect. The graduate committee should answer the request for re-examination within ten days.
|Previous Written Exams Available for Study|
|Theory||Fall 2004, Spring 2005, Fall 2005, Spring 2006, Fall 2006, Spring 2007, Fall 2007, Spring 2008, Spring 2009, Fall 2009, Spring 2010, Fall 2010|
|Systems||Spring 2005, Fall 2005|
|Programming Languages||Fall 2004, Spring 2005, Fall 2005, Spring 2006, Fall 2006, Spring 2007, Fall 2007, Spring 2008, Fall 2008, Spring 2009|
|Study Guide for the Theory Exam|
CS 530 Reference
CS 530 Topics
CS 430 Reference
CS 430 Topics
|Study Guide for the Systems Exam|
CS 450 and 550 References
CS 550 Topics
|Study Guide for the Programming Languages Exam|
CS 440 References
CS 440 Topics
CS 536 References
CS 536 Topics
The purpose of the oral qualifying exam is to judge the research capabilities of a student. It is to be determined whether or not the student is capable of the academic elements that constitute the research process. These elements may be categorized as:
- A scholarly review of a topic.
- A formal description of a problem.
- Familiarity with techniques that may be useful in solving the problem.
- Innovative ideas useful to solving the problem.
- A capability to present this work in written as well as oral form.
It is expected that the student will address the above requirement by presenting one or more research problems. The student should carefully review each problem, exhibit knowledge of techniques required to solve the problems, propose partial or full solutions, and show prospects for further research, if possible. While the student may address more than one problem, the student should guard against simply reviewing a number of problems. It is possible that the student has published results based on the presented research. This would be additional evidence of the student's research capabilities.
The following procedural rules apply from Spring 2004 onward:
- The PhD coordinator will coordinate the exam.
The student will be examined by a faculty group that excludes the advisor. Each group will decide the format of the exam. This could be:
- A description of research of the student's choice.
- A specific paper/topic assignment for the student.
- A written report may be required.
- The examination methodology should be announced to the student well in advance.
- The qualifier is to be held at the beginning of the semester. The date, time, and schedule should be announced at least two weeks in advance.
- The exam will be closed.
- A review of the examination will be given to the student along with the result of the exam within a week of the exam.