The Ph.D. Qualifying Examination

Fall 2020 Ph.D. Qualifying Exams

Written Exams: October 26-30, 2020

Oral Exams: November 2-6, 2020



The objective of the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination is to assess your general knowledge of mechanical engineering or nuclear and radiological engineering.  The examination philosophy of the Woodruff School is to evaluate your understanding of fundamental principles and your ability to apply these principles to solve problems.  The English language in both its written and oral forms will be used to solve problems on the qualifying examination.  The qualifying examination provides an early assessment of your potential to satisfactorily complete the requirements for the doctoral degree.  All students entering the Ph.D. program in the Woodruff School are required to take the examination.  The written examination is closed-book and closed-notes.

Mechanical Engineering Qualifying Examination

Nuclear and Radiological Engineering Qualifying Examination

Medical Physics Qualifying Examination

Bioengineering Qualifying Examination


Grade Point Average Requirement

You must be registered for the semester in which you take the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination and have full graduate standing.  A minimum GPA of 3.3 is required to take the qualifying examination.


Examination Schedule

The exams are given twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring.

If you already have a master's degree and matriculate as a Ph.D. student, you must take the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination no later than the one-year anniversary of your initial enrollment date in the Woodruff School graduate program.

Those who matriculate with a bachelor's degree must take the qualifying examination no later than the two-year anniversary of your initial enrollment date in the Woodruff School graduate program.

Postponement of the exams will not be allowed as a general rule.  However, some flexibility may be allowed for students who do not have an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering or a closely related area and for those just returning to school after being in industry for some time.  If you want to delay taking the qualifying exam, get an endorsement from your faculty advisor, and petition the Woodruff School Graduate Committee.


Preparation Guidelines and Test Specifications

The detailed test specifications for the Standard and Special Area Exams in Mechanical Engineering may be found here:

Detailed test specifications:

Archived exams:


Grading and Notification of Examination Results

You will be evaluated on your performance in each area of the qualifying examination by the respective area exam committee.  Each area committee reports its assessments to the Woodruff School faculty on a pass/fail/pass-with-condition basis.  The faculty then meets to evaluate your overall performance on the entire exam (both area exams). 

In mechanical engineering, the results of the examination will be one of the following:

Pass: You will continue in the Ph.D. degree program, and will prepare a Ph.D. proposal.

Fail: Students not passing the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination at the first sitting may be allowed to sit at the next offering of the examination for the one or more area exams that were failed. However, the faculty may advise the student after one sitting to leave the Ph.D. program.  A student who fails the exam on the second attempt will be asked to leave the Ph.D. program.  In retaking the qualifying exam, you may choose to be tested in a different area; however, only one attempt is allowed in this different area.

Pass With Condition: A student whose performance has been deemed to be marginally deficient, perhaps on a subset of the material covered, will be offered the option of Pass With Condition.  In this case, the student will re-take an oral-only examination with a minimum of two of the three faculty who administered the first oral exam at a time roughly one month from the time of the original exam.  The area(s) of deficiency will be communicated clearly to the student and the re-examination will focus on this material.  A successful re-examination will result in the student having passed that area exam; a failed re-examination will constitute a second failure.  A student offered Pass With Condition has the option to decline, instead, re-taking the full written and oral examinations the next semester they are offered.

In Nuclear and Radiological Engineering and Medical Physics, the grading of the examinations will conform to existing Woodruff School guidelines.  The results of the four examinations (three written examinations and the oral examination) will be reviewed by the NRE/MP faculty and reported to the Woodruff School Office of Student Services and the Woodruff School academic faculty.

You will be notified of the results of the exam (pass/fail in each area as well as an overall pass/fail grade) by letter from the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies.  The Associate Chair will counsel each student who does not pass the exam.  Students not passing the exam are encouraged to discuss their performance with their faculty advisors as well as the chairs of the appropriate area exam committees.