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Qualifying Examination (Q Exam)

The following is a 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 graduate program in the Field of Electrical and Computer Engineering. The overall outcome of the Qualifying Examination is determined during the Gradate Annual Review (GAR) by the entire ECE Field Faculty and holistically considers the following components to aware one of two possible outcomes.

  • Results for a Set of Subject Area Examinations
  • Grades for all Graduate Level Coursework taken at Cornell to date
  • Direct input from the Student’s Advisor / Committee Chair describing the Student’s Research Progress
  • Direct input from the members of the ECE Graduate Field Faculty describing the Student’s Progress and Demeanor as an ECE Ph.D. Student

Outcomes of the Qualifying Examination

  • PASS - Based on the above points of criteria, the Student will have demonstrated the necessary ability and aptitude to continue in the ECE Ph.D. Program.
  • FAIL – Based on the above points of criteria, the Student has not demonstrated the necessary ability to effectively continue in the ECE Ph.D. Program. The Student will be instructed to meet with the Director of Graduate Studies and his/her Advisor / Committee Chair to discuss the proper course of action.

Timing of the Qualifying Examination

  • The Student’s Qualifying Examination results will be considered during the Graduate Annual Review (GAR) which usually takes place soon after the Subject Area Examinations are completed.
  • The Qualifying Examination is offered once a year, at the end of the Spring Semester.
  • Students are eligible to participate in the Qualifying Examination at any time during their first Four (4) Semesters of Enrollment of graduate study.
  • Students must successfully complete the Qualifying Examination by the end of their Fourth Semester of enrollment of graduate study in order to remain in good academic standing as determined by the Field of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Subject Area Examinations

Format of the Subject Area Examinations

  • Subject Area Examinations are oral examinations with a duration of 20 – 30 minutes each.
  • Each Subject Area Examination will focus on a specific subject with the ECE Graduate Field. They include the following Eight (8) separate subjects taken from Four (4) separate areas:

Examination Subjects

  1. Random Processes and Probability (Subject 01)
  2. Computer Architecture (Subject Area 02)
  3. Computer Systems (Subject Area 02)
  4. Circuits / Devices (Subject Area 03)
  5. Solid State / Quantum (Subject Area 03)
  6. Electromagnetics / Optics (Subject Area 03)
  7. VLSI (Subject Area 02)
  8. Linear Systems (Subject Area 04)

Subject Areas

  1. Subject Area 01 – Probability and Random Processes
  2. Subject Area 02 – VLSI, Computer Architecture, Systems
  3. Subject Area 03 – Circuits/Devices, Devices to Circuits, Devices, Microsystems
  4. Subject Area 04 – Linear Algebra, Signals and Systems
    • Each Subject Area Examination will focus on material covered in a reasonable undergraduate curriculum on Electrical and Computer Engineering. Subject Area Examinations will have an associate syllabus to act as a study guide.
    • Subject Area Examinations are administered by a Two (2) Person Committee consisting of ECE Graduate Field Faculty Members that are well-versed in the corresponding subject.
    • The Subject Area Examination Committee must not include a Student’s Advisor / Committee Chair.

    Subject Area Examination Outcomes

    For each Subject Area Examination, the Subject Area Examination Committee will aware One of Three Possible Outcomes:

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

    The Subject Area Examination Committee will provide a written review of the Student’s performance on the Examination(s) and the justification for the awarded outcome.

    Achieving an outcome of either EXCELLENT or SATISFACTORY on Two (2) or more of the Subject Area Examinations covering at least Two (2) separate Subjects is sufficient to complete the exam criteria of the Qualifying Examination.

    Timing of the Subject Area Examinations

    • Subject Area Examination are administered annually during a one-week period near the end of the Spring Semester.
    • The scheduled dates of the Subject Area Examinations are determined by the ECE Director of Graduate Studies and will be announced in advance.
    • Subject Area Examinations may potentially be administered at other times due to family, medical emergency or other exceptional circumstances only, as determined by the ECE Director of Graduate Studies.
    • Students are encouraged to take Two (2) Subject Area Examinations on Two (2) Separate Subjects in their first year of graduate study.

    Appeals of Subject Area Examination Results

    • Students may appeal the results of a Subject Area Examination if he/she believes that an error has been made in his/her case.
    • The Student must file a written appeal to the ECE Director of Graduate Studies within One (1) Week of receiving the results of the Subject Area Examination.
    • The written appeal must be in the form of a formal, signed letter detailing the specific reasons why the Student believes the outcome of the Subject Area Examination should be changed.
    • A finalized decision regarding the written appeal will be rendered by the ECE Director of Graduate Studies in consultation with the Graduate Committee.

    Downloadable Subject Area Information

    Students may download a copy of the details regarding each Subject Area in order to effectively prepare for the Subject Area Examinations.

    1. Subject Area 01 – Probability and Random Processes
    2. Subject Area 02 – VLSI, Computer Architecture, Systems
    3. Subject Area 03 – Circuits/Devices, Devices to Circuits, Devices, Microsystems
    4. Subject Area 04 – Linear Algebra, Signals and Systems