Rutgers University Department of Physics and Astronomy

Placement Exams

Since fall 2009, all incoming students must take placement exams. The exams are intended to make sure students are ready to succeed in the core graduate classes. They consist of questions that one might expect to see in an exam in an advanced undergraduate course on that subject. Students passing the placement exams nearly always pass the corresponding course. Students not passing an exam should probably take an appropriate advanced undergraduate elective rather than the core graduate course; the decision about what to do is made after discussing the situation with the graduate director. This students who do not pass the placement exam but directly go on to take the graduate course have about an 80% pass (20% fail) rate in the graduate class.

Instructions for the exam and topics that may be on the exam can be found in pdf format here.

In parallel with the placement exam, challenge / exemption exams are held. These exams can be used to satisfy the corresponding core graduate course requirement of a grade of B or better in the course. They consist of questions that one might expect to see in an exam in that graduate course. Permission of the Graduate Program Director is required to take a challenge exam. Please request permission in advance, as challenge exams might not be given unless enough students will be taking them. The challenge exams are held at the same time and place at the corresponding placement exams - make sure you take the correct one! Typically only a small fraction of students taking the challenge exams pass them - less than half.

The placement / challenge exams are held towards the end of the week before the term starts, during orientation week in August and just before Martin Luther King Day in January. There are a number of welcome orientations scheduled by the university. There is also a department orientation, planned in part by the graduate students to help newly arriving students, typically scheduled for Wednesday of orientation week, that includes a free lunch!

The schedule for August 2021 has not yet been determined. The in-person activities were cancelled in August 2020 due to COVID. Below the August 2019 schedule is listed, since the schedule for 2021 will likely be similar, if we can meet in person.

The fall 2019 orientation schedule can be found here. The fall 2019 exam schedule is (Note new room - moved from Hill 114 to SEC 118!):

The January 2020 exam schedule is:

Quick summary: you may bring 1 page of notes. Please bring a calculator to the E&M challenge exam -- not needed for other exams.

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This page is maintained by Prof. Ronald Gilman. Last Revised - April 22, 2021.