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Written Qualifying Exams

The Department sets a General Written Examination offered in the end of spring semester of the first year based on the subject material in the two graduate core courses 20.420 and 20.440. The Graduate Program Committee, constructs this examination and arranges for its grading and adjudicating of the students’ performances.

The purpose of the exam is to assess how well students can integrate and apply the fundamental tools and approaches laid out in the core curriculum. Mastery of the material in the core subjects is an important part of this, and students’ grades in those courses provide one measure of their accomplishments to date. Equally important is that students are able to go beyond the compartmentalized nature of the material in those courses, and solve problems that cross the various subject boundaries.

Practice Exams

Copies of previous Written Examinations are available in the First Year Office as well as online through the BE Academic Office.


Students must sit for this examination after the first two semesters in residence.


The examination is given in one day, usually in the first week of June (2 questions, each two hours long, open book and notes).


In considering the students’ successful completion of the written exam, the Graduate Program Committee considers as an integrated whole the student’s performance in the core subjects, other subjects, and the student’s progress in pursuing a research program, along with their performance on the exam itself. The Graduate Program Committee Chair will notify students and their advisors of the results of the Written Exam.

If the Committee deems a student as having successfully satisfied all of the above as an integrated whole, they becomes a Qualified Doctoral Registrant and is eligible to sit for the Thesis Proposal/Oral Examination in the second year.

Occasionally, students whose performance on the exam, while passing overall, is highly deficient in one area or another may be given a Conditional Pass. The student must then successfully accomplish additional work specified by the Committee in order to make up the deficiency and be allowed to proceed further.