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Taking the Q Exam

***The new format of the ECE Qualifying Examination detailed below will be effective as of January 1, 2016. All ECE PhD Students who have not yet attempted their Qualifying Examination as of this date will be required to do so under the new format. 

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ECE Qualifying Examination 

The following is a new set of guidelines to govern the administration of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Graduate Field's Qualifying Examination. The purpose of these guidelines is to create a uniform, rigorous standard by which the ECE Graduate Field can assess the qualifications and preparation of students to continue in the ECE Ph.D. program. 

Format of the Qualifying Examination

The Qualifying Examination is an assessment of the qualification of incoming graduate students for a program in Electrical and Computer Engineering.The outcome of the Qualification Examination is determined during a Graduate Annual Review by the entire ECE Field and will holistically consider the following components to award one of two possible outcomes. 

  • Results for a set of Subject Examinations 
  • Grades for all graduate-level coursework 
  • Letter from the student's Special Committee Chair describing the student's research progress 

The two possible outcomes of the Qualifying Examination are:

  • PASS: Performance on Subject Examinations, graduate-level coursework, and research demonstrates the student is qualified to continue in the ECE Ph.D. program. 
  • FAIL: Performance on Subject Examinations, graduate-level coursework, and research demonstrates the student is not qualified to continue in the ECE Ph.D. program. The student will be instructed to meet with the Director of Graduate Studies and his/her Special Committee Chair to discuss the proper course of action. 

Timing of the Qualifying Examination

The student's Qualifying Examination will be considered during a Graduate Annual Review which usually takes place soon after the Subject Examinations. 

Students are eligible to pass the Qualifying Examination at any time during the first four semesters of graduate study. 

Students must pass the Qualifying Examination by the end of their fourth semester of graduate study in order to remain in good academic standing within the Electrical and Computer Engineering Graduate Field. 

Format of the Subject Examinations

Subject Examinations are oral examinations lasting approximately 20-30 minutes. 

Each Subject Examination focuses on a specific subject within the ECE Graduate Field. Example subjects include: 

  • VLSI
  • computer architecture 
  • linear signals and systems theory 
  • probability and random processes 
  • devices and circuits 
  • optics and electromagnetism 

Each Subject Examination will focus on material covered in a reasonable undergraduate curriculum on electrical and computer engineering. Each Subject Examination will have an associated syllabus to act as a study guide. 

Subject Examinations are administered by a Subject Examination Committee of at least two ECE Graduate Field Faculty Members that are well-versed in the corresponding subject. The Subject Examination Committee must not include a student's Special Committee Chair. 

Students are required to take at least two Subject Examinations, and may not take more than four Subject Examinations. 

For each Subject Examination, the Subject Examination Committee will award one of three possible outcomes: 

  • EXCELLENT: Student has demonstrated excellent understanding of the corresponding subject that exceeds the expectations of a reasonable Ph.D. candidate within the ECE Graduate Field. 
  • SATISFACTORY: Student has demonstrated satisfactory understanding of the corresponding subject that meets the expectations of a reasonable Ph.D. candidate within the ECE Graduate Field. 
  • UNSATISFACTORY: Student has demonstrated unsatisfactory understanding of the corresponding subject that is beneath the expectations of a reasonable Ph.D. candidate within the ECE Graduate Field. 

The Subject Examination Committee will prepare a written review of the students' performance on the Subject Examination and the justification for the awarded outcome. 

Achieving an outcome of either SATISFACTORY or EXCELLENT on two or more Subject Examinations covering at least two distinct subjects is sufficient to pass the Qualifying Examination. 

Timing of the Subject Examination

Subject Examinations are administered annually during a two-week period near the end of the spring semester. 

All Subject Examinations on a given subject will be administered on the same day. 

Subject Examinations may be administered at other times due to family or medical emergency or other exceptional circumstances only.

The subjects of the Subject Examinations are chosen by the Graduate Committee and will be announced approximately one year in advance. The syllabus for each Subject Examination will also be available one year in advance. 

As an exception, during the first year (i.e., 2015-2016 academic year) of the new Qualifying Examination, the subjects of the Subject Examinations and the corresponding syllabi will be available approximately nine months in advance. 

The dates of the Subject Examinations are chosen by the Director of Graduate Studies in consultation with the ECE Graduate Field and will be announced near the beginning of the spring semester. 

Students are encouraged to take exactly two Subject Examinations on distinct subjects in their first year of graduate study. 

Appeals of the Subject Examination

Students may appeal the result of a Subject Examination if the student believes an error has been in his or her case. 

The student must file a written appeal with the Director of Graduate Studies within one-week of receiving the results from the Subject Examination Committee. 

The written appeal should be in the form of a signed letter detailing the reasons why the student believes the outcome of the Subject Exam should be changed. 

A decision on the appeal will be made by the Director of Graduate Studies in consultation with the Graduate Committee.

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You may save a downloadable version of the Qualifying Examination as an attachment below. Also available for download are the details regarding each individual Subject Area.


Taking the A Exam

You will prepare to take your Admission to Candidacy (A Exam) once you have reached the point in your graduate program when you have completed all of their required coursework as determined by your Advisor / Committee Chair and Special Committee Minor Members, and have chosen a topic for your dissertation.

The format of the A Exam is up to the discretion of your Advisor / Committee Chair and Special Committee Minor Members. Generally, it is an oral exam.

You are eligible to take your A Exam as soon as you have earned a total of two (2) Registration Units in your graduate program. All Cornell University Ph.D. students are required to take their A Exam prior to the completion of their seventh semester in their graduate program, unless special permission is obtained from the Graduate School.

You will need to select a time that is convenient for you, your Advisor / Committee Chair and Special Committee Minor Members in order to schedule your A Exam. If you need to reserve a Conference Room in Phillips Hall, you should contact an Scott Coldren in 223 Phillips Hall; if a Conference Room in Duffield Hall is needed, you should contact Sue Bulkley in 217 Phillips Hall; if a Conference Room in Rhodes Hall is needed, you should Daniel Richter in 314 Rhodes Hall.

  1. Forms for the A Exam
    You will need to obtain A Exam Schedule form (Form A3) which can either be downloaded from the Graduate School’s web site here, or can be found in hard copy form in the ECE Student Services Office located in 223 Phillips Hall. You will need to fill out the form in its entirety and then obtain the signatures of your Advisor / Committee Chair and your Special Committee Minor Members. The signatures of the ECE Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Field Assistant (this is Scott Coldren) are also required in order for the form to be considered complete.

    The Graduate School must receive your completed A Exam Schedule form with all necessary signatures a minimum of Seven (7) calendar days prior to the date of the scheduled exam. The submission of a form fewer than Seven (7) days prior to the scheduled date will not be accepted.

    You will need to submit your completed A Exam Schedule form to the Student Services Office in the Graduate School, located in 143 Caldwell Hall.

    You will need to submit a photocopy of the completed and signed A Exam Schedule form to Scott Coldren, the Manager of Student Services in the ECE Student Services Office located in 223 Phillips Hall. You may come to his office and have your form photocopied here.                                                                                                                                                                                    You will need to bring a copy of the A Exam Results Form to the Exam itself. The A Exam Results Form can either be downloaded from the Graduate School’s web site here, or can be found in hard copy form in the ECE Student Services Office located in 223 Phillips Hall.

    You will need to fill out the top portion of the form and then obtain the signatures of your Advisor / Committee Chair and your Special Committee Minor Members after the successful completion of your A Exam. The signatures of the ECE Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Field Assistant (this is Scott Coldren) are also required in order for the form to be considered complete.

  2. Getting a Special Master of Science (MS) Degree
    All students who successfully complete their A Exam automatically qualify for a Special Master of Science (MS) Degree. But, you will only earn a Special MS if your Advisor (Chairperson) and Special Committee Minor Members deem it appropriate for you to do so. If you would like to receive a Special MS degree, you will need to do the following:

    1. Confirm with your (Chairperson) and Special Committee Minor Members that they agree you should receive a Special MS Degree for successfully completing your A Exam before you schedule the exam itself.
    2. On the A Exam Results Form under the "Passed A Exam" section, make certain that your Advisor (Chairperson) checks the box that says, "Award M.A./M.S. without thesis; student continuing in Ph.D. program."
    3. In this same area of the form, it states directly after "DGS initial required if checked." When you get the signature of the DGS (Director of Graduate Studies), be certain that he/she puts their initials on this line.
    4. Be aware that the Graduate School will **NOT** consider a petition to retroactively award a Special MS Degree after you have already completed your A Exam and submitted the completed A Exam Results form (A4).
  3. Submitting your forms
    You will need to submit your completed A Exam Results Form to the Student Services Office in the Graduate School, located in 143 Caldwell Hall. The completed A Exam Results Form **MUST** be submitted no later than three (3) days following the scheduled date of your exam without exception. The submission of a form more than three (3) days after the completed A Exam will not be accepted.

    Do I need to provide the ECE Student Services Office with a copy of the form?

    Yes. You will need to submit a photocopy of the completed and signed A Exam Results Form to Scott Coldren, the Manager of Student Services in the ECE Student Services Office located in 223 Phillips Hall. You may come to his office and have your form photocopied there.


Taking the B Exam

You will prepare to take your B Exam (or Thesis Defense) once you have completed all of the necessary requirements in order to complete your Ph.D. program. Your Advisor / Committee Chair and Special Committee Minor Members will have the final determination of when you have successfully reached this point.

The format of the B Exam is up to the discretion of your Advisor / Committee Chair and Special Committee Minor Members. It is generally an oral exam.

You are eligible to take your B Exam as soon as you have earned a total of six (6) Registration Units in your graduate program. Please note that you must earn a total of two (2) Registration Units between your A and B Exams.

You will need to select a time that is convenient for you, your Advisor / Committee Chair and Special Committee Minor Members in order to schedule your B Exam. If you need to reserve a Conference Room in Phillips Hall, you should contact an Scott Coldren in 223 Phillips Hall; if a Conference Room in Duffield Hall is needed, you should contact Sue Bulkley in 217 Phillips Hall; if a Conference Room in Rhodes Hall is needed, you should Daniel Richter in 314 Rhodes Hall.

  1. Forms for the B Exam
    You will need to obtain a B Exam Schedule Form which can either be downloaded from the Graduate School’s web site here, or can be found in hard copy form in the ECE Student Services Office located in 223 Phillips Hall. You will need to fill out the form in its entirety and then obtain the signatures of your Advisor / Committee Chair and your Special Committee Minor Members. The signatures of the ECE Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Field Assistant (this is Scott Coldren) are also required in order for the form to be considered complete.

    The Graduate School must be given notice of your exam at least Seven (7) calendar days prior to the date of the scheduled exam. The completed B Exam Schedule Form **MUST** be submitted no later than Seven (7) days prior to the scheduled date of your exam without exception. The submission of a form fewer than Seven (7) days prior to the scheduled date will not be accepted.

    You will need to submit your completed B Exam Schedule Form to the Student Services Office in the Graduate School, located in 143 Caldwell Hall.

    You will need to submit a photocopy of the completed and signed B Exam Schedule Form to Scott Coldren, the Manager of Student Services in the ECE Student Services Office located in 223 Phillips Hall. You may come to his office and have your form photocopied there.

    You will need to obtain a B Exam Results Form which can either be downloaded from the Graduate School's web site here, or can be found in hard copy form in the ECE Student Services Office located in 223 Phillips Hall. You will need to fill out the top portion of the form and then obtain the signatures of your Advisor / Committee Chair and all Special Committee Minor Members after you successfully complete your B Exam. Your Advisor / Committee Chair should be sure to indicate the results of your B Exam in one of the three appropriate sections on the form. They are: “Passed Exam,” “Conditionally Passed Exam,” and “Failed Exam Student Continuing in the Ph.D. Program.” Each section will require the date of the completed B Exam along with the appropriate box checked. The signatures of the ECE Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Field Assistant (this is Scott Coldren) are also required in order for the form to be considered complete.

  2. What to do upon completion of your B Exam
    You will need to submit your completed B Exam Results Form to the Student Services Office in the Graduate School, located in 143 Caldwell Hall. The completed B Examination Results Form **MUST** be submitted no later than three (3) days following the scheduled date of your exam without exception. The submission of a form more than three (3) days after the completed B Exam will not be accepted.

    You will need to submit a photocopy of the completed and signed B Examination Results Form to Scott Coldren, the Manager of Student Services in the ECE Student Services Office located in 223 Phillips Hall. You may come to his office and have your form photocopied there.

    If you are a Registered Student at the time of your B Exam, you will need to submit info required of you by the Thesis Advisor's Office in the Graduation Manager online system. Go here for detailed instructions of how to complete the required info. Included at this link are the Thesis and Dissertation Guidebook and Formatting Guidelines. If you have any questions regarding any part of this process, please send email to thesis@cornell.edu.

    You will have up to Sixty (60) days to submit the final, bound copy of your thesis following the successful completion of your B Exam. For questions regarding thesis submission as well as the submission deadline requirements, visit the following link or send email to thesis@cornell.edu.