ECE PhD Qualifying Exam

Qualifying Exam Schedule


Both MS to PhD and BS to PhD students are required to schedule the ECE Qualifying Exam in the 1st semester of their 2nd year in the PhD program.

  • Students who begin the PhD program in autumn semester are required to schedule the Qualifying Exam during the following autumn semester.
  • Students who begin the PhD program in spring semester schedule the exam during the following spring semester.
  • Students who begin the PhD program in summer term schedule the Qualifying Exam during the autumn semester of the following year.

The Qualifying Exam must be scheduled during a one month window in autumn and spring semesters. The autumn semester scheduling month is October and the spring semester scheduling month is March. The March time frame is extended to April 15 due to spring break.

Failure to do will be considered a failed attempt.


Qualifying Exam Guidelines - Exams Scheduled Autumn 2022 & Spring 2023 Only

These guidelines are in effect for students whose 1st term in the ECE PhD program was summer 2021, autumn 2021 or spring 2022. 

Students scheduling the ECE PhD Qualifying Exam in autumn 2022 or spring 2023 must complete three graduate letter-graded ECE courses by the scheduled exam term, including during the semester when the Qualifying Exam is administered. At least two of the three courses must be in the student's primary research area. ECE 5000-level courses will meet the ECE Qualifying Exam course requirement.

Qualifying Exam Committee

The Qualifying Exam committee consists of three P-status ECE faculty. One member is the faculty advisor. An additional member is selected by the student and the advisor. The 3rd member will be assigned by the ECE Graduate Studies committee and will be outside the student's primary research area. To allow sufficient time for the Graduate studies committee to add the 3rd member, the ECE Request for Approval of PhD Qualifying Examination Committee form must be submitted to the ECE graduate program coordinator at least one month prior to the anticipated Qualifying Exam date.

Qualifying Exam Policies and Procedures

  • The purpose of the Qualifying Exam is to test the fundamental knowledge acquired by the student over prior coursework and assess the ability to apply this fundamental knowledge to approach research questions/problems.
  • Two Qualifying Exam attempts are allowed. Qualifying exams can be scheduled in autumn and spring semesters only. The 2nd attempt must be scheduled during the scheduling window in the semester following the semester of the failed attempt. The Qualifying Exam committee remains the same for the second attempt. If the advisor changes between the first and second attempts, the two other committee members remain the same. If a student fails after two attempts, the student is no longer in the PhD program and can earn a master's degree after completing master's requirements. If a student does not take the Qualifying Exam during the semester the student is required to schedule the exam, this will be considered a failed attempt.
  • Format: The exam will be 90 minutes long. The student will be asked to give a short presentation (10 minutes) on a research problem chosen by the advisor and the student. The presentation will be "uninterrupted" to assess its clarity, coherence and depth without external input. The presentation will be followed by 20 minutes of questioning by each member, followed by a second round of final questions. These questions will be on fundamentals testing the student's ability to integrate the material learned in the courses they took and the ability to apply their knowledge to solve research problems. These questions may not be associated with the presentation.
  • Each Qualifying Exam committee member will submit a grade of 0 (fail), 1 (marginal) or 2 (pass) to the Graduate Studies committee. A score of 4/6 is required to pass. When all results have been submitted, the Graduate Studies committee notifies the student and the Qualifying Exam committee about the outcome of the exam.


Revised Qualifying Exam Guidelines for Exams Scheduled Autumn 2023 and After

Revised Qualifying Exam guidelines are in effect for students whose 1st term in the ECE PhD program is summer 2022 and after.

  • Students will submit the ECE PhD Plan of study by the end of their first semester in the PhD program and indicate their primary and secondary research areas from the 6 ECE research areas:
    1. Electromagnetics
    2. Circuits
    3. Computer, Networks and Communication
    4. Control, Signal Processing and Computer Vision
    5. Power and Energy
    6. Solid State Electronics and Photonics
  • Students will be tested mainly from their primary research area material. Students should contact their primary research area chair for additional information on the exam guidelines for their research area. Students will not be required to take course(s) from the secondary area for the Qualifying Exam.
  • Students must complete three ECE letter-graded graduate courses in their primary research area by the semester the Qualifying Exam is scheduled. One of the three required courses may be taken during the semester when the Qualifying Exam is administered.

Committee Formation

  • The Qualifying Exam committee will consist of three ECE faculty members, two members are selected by the student.
  • The committee can include the student’s advisor, but can also exclude the advisor. If the student has more than one advisor, at most one of the advisors can be included, i.e., at least one of the two members selected by the student must be a non-advisor.
  • At least one of the two faculty members selected by the student must be from the primary research area and should be designated the chair of the committee.
  • The 3rd Qualifying Exam committee member is assigned by the Graduate Studies Committee. The 3rd member is preferably selected from the student's primary research area, but may be a secondary area faculty member based on availability. 

Exam Format

The Qualifying Exam will be 90 minutes long.

  • 10 minutes: Student presentation including student's academic background, coursework, and a technical topic of interest within the allowed time.
  • 80 minutes: Questions/answers from the committee.    

Exam Grading

0 – The student has difficulty recalling the basic concepts/results on the main topics.

1 – The student is aware of the basic concepts of the area topics, and can fully solve basic-level questions on these topics. However, the student has difficulty fully solving more advanced questions (e.g. questions posed in exams of the associated courses). 

2 – The student can solve more advanced questions fully. In addition, the student can satisfactorily approach open-ended and research-oriented questions.

Specific requirements may differ by research area.

Exam Decision - Based on the sum of the 3 ratings

0 – 3 -> student fails 

4 – 6 -> student passes