Students

Old Qualifying Exam policy

The old Qualifying Exam is available only for students who entered the ME Ph.D. program prior to autumn 2017. These students also have the option to take the new Qualifying Exam.

Table of contents

When to take the exam

Currently, the Department has three different pathways in pursing a Ph.D. degree: pre-M.S. entry with a bachelor's degree, post-M.S. entry with a non-UW degree, and post-M.S. entry with a UW degree. Timing of the exam is described in detail as follows:

Pre-M.S. entry

Every full-time student in the department's pre-M.S. admission pathway is required to take the qualifying exam within two calendar years after his or her entry into the program. Thus, a student entering in autumn 2016 must take the exam no later than spring 2018. A student who has not passed the exam within two and one-half years after his or her entry into the program will be asked to withdraw from the program.

Post-M.S. entry with a non-UW degree

Every full-time student in this pathway (Ph.D. following a non-UW M.S. degree) is required to take the exam within one calendar year after his or her entry into the program. Thus, a student entering in autumn 2016 must take the exam during spring 2017. A student who has not passed the exam within one and one-half years after his or her entry into the program will be asked to withdraw from the program.

Post-M.S. entry with a UW degree

Every full-time student in this pathway (Ph.D. following a UW M.S. degree) is required to take the exam within one calendar year after his or her entry into the Ph.D. program. Thus, a student entering in autumn 2016 must take the exam during spring 2016. A student who has not passed the exam within one and one-half years after his or her entry into the program will be asked to withdraw from the program. A student in this pathway may take the qualifying exam when he or she is still in the UW M.S. program.

Part-time students

Part-time status is available for Ph.D. students in the traditional post-M.S. pathways (following either a UW or a non-UW M.S. degree). Part-time students are advised to take the exam when they have completed 18 credits of course work or within two years after their entry into the Ph.D. program, whichever occurs first.

In other words, if a part-time student takes only one course each quarter (excluding summer), the student should take the qualifying exam by the end of the second year. If the part-time student takes more than one course per quarter, the student will need to take the exam earlier.

Occasionally, part-time students may not be able to take the qualifying exam within the suggested time frame. In this case, part-time students may file a petition to the Graduate Education Committee to defer the qualifying exam. Please refer the Petition section for the procedure. Also please note that the petition may or may not be granted.

Transfer students

Occasionally, students who have passed a qualifying exam at a Ph.D. granting institution transfer into UW ME Ph.D. program. In this case, the students may file a petition to the Graduate Education Committee to waive or to defer the qualifying exam. Please refer the Petition section for the procedure. Also please note that the petition may or may not be granted.

Exam format

The exam is given twice yearly, during the later parts of the autumn and spring quarters, normally during months of November and May. Any student who intends to take the exam is required to notify the Graduate Program Coordinator, by email, of his or her intent to do so, by the last day of the second week of the quarter in which he or she is taking the examination. The student must also at this time declare a major interest area from the following three areas:

  • Energy and Fluids
  • Systems and Dynamics
  • Mechanics, Materials and Manufacturing

The two areas that are not the declared major interest area are defined as minor areas.

The materials covered in the qualifying exam major areas are roughly equivalent to those covered in the following courses:

  • Energy and Fluids
    • ME 323: Thermodynamics
    • ME 333: Fluid Mechanics
    • ME 331: Heat Transfer
  • Mechanics, Materials and Manufacturing
    • ME 354: Mechanics of Materials
    • ME 355: Manufacturing Processes
    • ME 356: Machine Design
  • Systems and Dynamics
    • ME 230: Dynamics
    • ME 373: System Dynamics 1
    • ME 374: System Dynamics 2

The exam has a written component, an oral component, and a minor course requirement.

Written component

The written component consists of a mathematics section and an engineering section. The mathematics section of the exam will last two hours. The materials covered in the mathematics section are those covered in ME 564 and 565. The engineering section will last three hours and consists of two questions in the student's declared major interest area. The written component may be open or closed book. Examining faculty will notify the students as to the exam format two weeks prior to the written exam.

Oral component

The oral component consists of questions related to the student's chosen major interest area. The oral component is given to each student individually, by appointment, and is taken in the week following the written examination. It will be given by two faculty members and will normally last one hour.

Minor course requirement

Each student must take one course in each minor area and pass the course with a minimal grade of 3.3. For example, a student with the Energy and Fluids major must complete one course in the Mechanics, Materials, and Manufacturing area and one course in the Systems and Dynamics area. The minor courses must be taken after the student's entry into the UW graduate program. Moreover, no more than one of these two minor courses may be a 400-level course. The course requirement must be satisfied before the student can proceed to his or her General Exam. The minor courses shall come from the following lists:

  • Energy and Fluids:
    • ME 507: Fluid Mechanics
    • ME 521: Thermodynamics
    • ME 529: Advanced Energy Conversion Systems
    • ME 531: Conductive Heat Transfer
    • ME 538: Advanced Fluid Mechanics
  • Systems and Dynamics:
    • ME 469: Applications of Dynamics in Engineering
    • ME 470: Mechanical Vibrations
    • ME 471: Automatic Control
    • ME 547: Linear Systems Theory
    • ME 588: Dynamics and Vibrations
  • Mechanics, Materials and Manufacturing:
    • ME 440: Advanced Mechanics of Materials and Solids
    • ME 501: Modern Manufacturing Processes
    • ME 503: Continuum Mechanics
    • ME 541: Fatigue of Materials
    • ME 551: Elasticity I: Elastostatics
    • ME 556: Experimental Stress Analysis I
    • ME 557: Experimental Stress Analysis II
    • ME 559: Introduction to Fracture Mechanics

Exam evaluation and outcome

Following the completion of the Qualifying Exam, the ME Department faculty will meet to determine, via a faculty vote, the outcome of the exam for each student. Evaluation criteria to determine outcomes of the Qualifying Exam include:

  1. The results of the Exam (both written and oral portions)
  2. The student's performance in course work (e.g., courses taken and GPA)
  3. The student's progress in research

There are four possible outcomes of each exam: pass, conditional pass, fail with permission to retake, and fail with withdrawal from the PhD program.

Pass exam

Student is asked to continue in the program.

Conditional pass

The student will be asked to continue in the program. The student is, however, generally required to fulfill specified requirements before taking the general exam (e.g., additional courses).

Fail with permission to retake

The student will be asked to retake the exam at the next available offering. The students (including part-time students) must pass the exam in the next available offering to receive approval to continue. Otherwise, the students will be asked to withdraw from the Ph.D. program. Please note that students who fail the exam in their first attempt may not automatically receive this option.

Fail and withdrawal from Ph.D. program

The student must withdraw from the PhD program. The Department will allow the student to stay in the program for two quarters as a transition to exit the program. There are two things to note:

  • This outcome is possible for students who fail the qualifying exam in their first attempt.
  • In compliance with US immigration laws, international students must maintain successful progress toward the degree while in the program. An international student may not be eligible for the two-quarter transition period, if the compliance is violated.

Petition

Students wishing to ask for a variance or exception to policy should submit a petition to the Graduate Education Committee. The petition should include the following elements:

  • A petition letter carefully addressing:
    • Reasons for petition
    • Proposed solutions (e.g., deferral exam for 6 months)
  • Documents or physical evidence to support your petition
  • An endorsement letter from your Ph.D. adviser

Please note that the Graduate Education Committee may not grant the petition.

An outcome of the qualifying exam is not subjected to petition.

Useful tips

  1. Review previous exam questions on the Past Ph.D. Qualifying Exam Problems page.
  2. Do not listen to rumors. If you are not sure about anything related to the qualifying exam, please consult the Graduate Program Coordinator or the Graduate Program Adviser for clarification.
  3. The written and oral components of the exam focus on graduate-level understanding of undergraduate materials. Therefore, it is critical to fully understand the materials. A common mistake observed in the past is to work many practice problems without truly understanding the concepts underlying the material.
  4. If a student does not pass the qualifying exam the first time, the student does not have an automatic right to retake the exam. In cases where the exam results are sufficiently poor, a student may not be allowed to retake the exam.
  5. Good scores from the written and oral components of the exam are necessary but not sufficient to pass the exam. Other factors, such as research performance and course grades, are also taken into consideration.
  6. It is highly recommended that students take and pass the minor courses before taking the Qualifying Exam, although this is not required. Passing the minor courses with good grades will considerably promote a student's academic credential in the Qualifying Exam meeting.

Typical exam schedule

The exact dates of the qualifying exam may vary due to a number of factors, including conflicts with conference dates and University holidays. For planning purposes, the Department tries to keep the following exam schedules roughly the same every year. (The following schedules, however, may not be guaranteed.)

Typical autumn quarter Qualifying Exam schedule

Component Schedule
Written exams Friday and Saturday two weeks before Thanksgiving holiday
Oral exams Monday through Thursday the week before Thanksgiving
Faculty evaluate exam outcomes Friday the week before Thanksgiving

For example, the 2010 written exam took place on 11/12 and 11/13, the oral exam took place from 11/15 to 11/18, and the faculty evaluation meeting on 11/19, while the Thanksgiving holiday started on 11/25.

Typical spring quarter Qualifying exam schedule

Component Schedule
Written exams Friday and Saturday one week before Memorial Day weekend
Oral exams Monday through Thursday before the long weekend
Faculty evaluate exam outcomes Friday before the long weekend

For example, the 2011 written exam took place on 5/20 and 5/21, the oral exam from 5/23 to 5/26, and the faculty evaluation meeting on 5/27, while the Memorial Day long weekend started on 5/28.