University of Minnesota
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Electrical and Computer Engineering

PhD Preliminary Written Examination

  PhD Preliminary Written Exams
          • Ordered by subject/topic
          • PhD Preliminary Written Exam Reading List
          • PhD Preliminary Registration Form

The Preliminary Written Examination must be passed by every PhD candidate.  The purpose of
the exam is to demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge of a wide range of Electrical Engineering
topics and to show an understanding of the relationship among these areas; to assess the
student's analytic ability, creativity, and potential for successful completion of the PhD program
in Electrical Engineering.

     • PhD students who enter the department with a Master of Science degree in Electrical
       Engineering must pass the PhD Preliminary Written Examination during their first
       academic year in residence.
    • PhD Students who enter the department with a MS degree NOT in Electrical Engineering,
       must pass the examination before the end of their second academic year in residence in
       the Graduate School
    • MS students interested in continuing on to the PhD, must pass the PhD Preliminary Written
       Examination by the end of their second academic year in residence in the Graduate School.
            MS students who pass the WPE must file a request for a change of status with the
              Graduate School if they wish to enter the doctoral program.
            MS students must file the request to change their status to PhD no later than the second
              semester following passing the WPE.

     NOTE: To request an exception to the above timing, file a petition to the Director of Graduate
     Studies with your adviser’s signature and support. Submit your petition to Linda Jagerson
     in 3-166 EE/CSci Bldg.

Exam Date
The PhD Preliminary Written Exam is typically held in November and in April.

Chances to Pass the Exam
Students have two chances to pass the exam. On rare occasions, a student may be permitted a
third attempt. Such a request can only be made by the Faculty Adviser (not by the student) and
must be approved by a vote of the entire faculty.

Approximately one month before the exam, Linda Jagerson will send you an e-mail which will
include the date of the exam and the deadline for registering online. Students registering for
the exam must declare a major Research Area. The three major Research Areas are Applied
Sciences and Devices, Computer Engineering, and Systems.

GPA Requirement to take the PhD Written Preliminary Exam
Students must have an average GPA of 3.3 (unless you are a new student to the Graduate
Program) to take the exam. If your GPA is below 3.3 and you wish to take the Written Preliminary
Exam, file a petition to the Director of Graduate Studies with your adviser's signature and support.
Submit your petition to Linda Jagerson in 3-166 EE/CSci Bldg. The petition will be reviewed by the
Graduate Committee. In most cases, this petition will be approved the first time. (This rule
was voted by faculty in November 2008.)

PhD Preliminary Examination Committee
The names of the PhD Preliminary Examination Committee who prepare the questions for the
exam will not be made available to students taking the exam.

The PhD Preliminary Written Exam is Closed Book, Closed Notes.

Exam Questions
Exam questions are based on material typically covered in junior, senior and beginning graduate
courses (see PhD Written Preliminary Exam Reading List). The exam consists of 13 questions
(the software question was eliminated beginning Fall 2009), each question related to an advanced
undergraduate or early graduate course. Each student must turn in answers to at least three of the
questions, and may, turn in answers to four questions. The decision to answer three or four
questions is up to each individual graduate student taking the exam. If a student studies for and is
confident of only three question areas, the decision will be clear—answer three and turn in three
answers. However, if the student gets to the exam and is confident of working four of the questions
and would rather have his or her grade based on the best three out of four—then they should attempt four
questions and turn in four. At the end of the exam, each student will be asked to mark a form indicating
which three or four answers they want graded. The graduate committee will not permit a student to turn
in and designate more than four answers for grading. To view previous exams, see Exam Archives by Subject
Subject topics include: 
               Analog and Digital Electronics
                Computer Aided Design
               Computer Architecture
               Digital Design
               Fields and Transmission Lines
               Power Systems and Power Electronics
               Semiconductor Devices
               Semiconductor Materials
               Signal Processing
               Software (omitted Fall 2009)

Calculator for the Exam
Standard, department owned, Texas Instruments TI-30XA engineering/scientific calculators will
be distributed at the beginning of the exam for use by those taking the exam. These calculators
will not be programmable and will not graph results. Students will not be allowed to bring their
own calculators. All calculators will be collected at the conclusion of the exam.

Grading Steps
Pass/fail decisions will be made in three steps. First, each answer will be graded by the faculty
member responsible for the question and a pass/fail grade given for the answer. These grades
can be P, P-, F+, F. Second, the individual answer grades (along with numerical scores) then are
made available to the Chair of the Faculty Subgroup of the major Research Area (Applied Sciences/
Devices, Computer Engineering, or Systems). The Subgroup Chair calls a meeting of the faculty
in the Research Subgroup. The student's performance is discussed by the faculty of that subgroup.

For those students who have turned in four questions, the three best will be considered for evaluation.
Typically, a student who passes all three questions is recommended to pass the Written Preliminary
Exam. A student who fails two questions fails the exam. If a student passes two questions, the student's
research performance is considered. Some students who demonstrate research accomplishments
and who have marginally failed one question (scored F+) may be recommended to pass the exam.
All Research Subgroup faculty participate in this step. The Subgroup Chairs send their recommendations
to the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS). In the third step, the Director of Graduate Studies presents the
recommendations of the subgroups at a meeting of all EE Faculty and the faculty vote on the Final
Pass/Fail decisions.

When can I find out if I passed the exam?
Students can get Pass/Fail decisions and a score (P, P-, F+, F) for each question from their Faculty Advisers
after the faculty meeting. No numerical score for each question will be made available. No overall ranking
will be available, since the students will not be ranked.

 What happens if I fail the exam?
If a student fails the exam, the student can take the exam during the next semester. Any student who wishes
to defer the exam to a subsequent semester may file a petition to the Graduate Committee and must include
reasons for the petition. This must be supported by the Faculty Adviser.

A student who fails the Written Preliminary Exam two times is removed from the PhD program. Often students
graduate with a MSEE degree. On rare occasions, a student may be permitted a third attempt. Such a request
can only be made by the Faculty Adviser (and not by the student) and must be approved by voting by the entire

Can I see my graded exam?
Students who have failed the exam and want to see a copy of their graded exam should contact the Director
of Graduate Studies, Prof. Randall Victora, at, 6-157 Keller Hall, 612-625-1825.

What if I am not satisfied with how a problem was graded?
Any student who is not satisfied with the grading of a specific question should discuss this with his or her
Faculty Adviser and the Director of Graduate Studies. The student should not contact the individual faculty
member who graded that question.