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Preliminary Exam

The purpose of the UF Physics Preliminary Examination is to assess students’ preparation at an undergraduate level, including the ability to demonstrate problem solving skills in various areas of the core physics curriculum.

All incoming students will be required to take the exam upon enrollment in the PhD Program. The Preliminary Exam will be given each year at the start of the Fall and Spring semesters. The exact dates are arranged to be at or near the start of classes as advertised on Department webpages. The Ph.D. and M.S. degrees require that students pass the Preliminary Exam within the first two years of enrollment, with a maximum of 4 attempts. Students are strongly encouraged to pass the exam by the first spring so as not to impede academic progress. Various fellowships are available to students during the first summer, and one of the eligibility criteria for these fellowships is having passed the Preliminary Exam.

Note that there is no “free” attempt at the exam. It is important for students to take their first attempt at the exam seriously as faculty may, at their discretion, use the results of the Preliminary Exam in their decisions regarding research positions. This may impact students’ ability to find an advisor for the research course that all students will take during the summer that follows the first year.

Exam Content and Format

The exam will focus on core topics in the physics undergraduate curriculum. It will be divided into the following 4 topical sections, each of which will consist of 3 questions:

  • Section A: Quantum Mechanics (3 questions)
  • Section B: Electricity and Magnetism (3 questions)
  • Section C: Classical Mechanics (2 questions) and Special Relativity (1 question)
  • Section D: Statistical Mechanics/Thermodynamics (3 questions)

The time limit for completing each section is 3 hours, which is typically more than sufficient for completing all three questions. The exam will be a closed-book format. You may use a non- programmable calculator (i.e. one that cannot store formulas). Students will not be allowed to make use of external material such as formula sheets as no other tables or aids are allowed or required.

Below you will find a recommended Bibliography that addresses the typical material covered on the exam.

Passing the Exam

Passing is determined by the student’s total exam score, independent of performance on the individual topical sections. The total score will be based on the best 2 scores in each section, for a maximum total score of 80 points. Note that students should attempt all 3 questions in a section to the best of their abilities as all 3 will be graded. After all questions are graded, the highest 2 scores in each section will be used to determine a student’s overall score. The passing threshold will be set no higher than 48/80 (60%).

Historically, about 70% of students pass the Preliminary Exam on their first attempt, with the passing fraction increasing to about 95% by the second attempt. Data shows that a primary reason that students did not pass the exam on their first attempt was a lack of proper preparation. For this reason, we emphasize that students shoudl take their first attempt at the exam and prepare accordingly.

Bibliography

This listing is to provide a bibliography that might be reviewed prior to taking the Preliminary Examination. The advanced courses required for UF physics majors are listed, along with current (or recent) textbooks that have been used during the courses. This listing is only intended as a guide, as in many cases, numerous textbooks are available at the same level of presentation. (Note that it is assumed that students have a comprehensive knowledge of the material presented in Physics 1 & 2, 4th Edition, Resnick, Halliday, and Krane, or its equivalent.)

Quantum Mechanics (PHY4604 and PHY4605)
  • Introduction to Quantum Mechanics, 3rd Edition, Griffiths and Schroeter
Electricity and Magnetism (PHY3323 and PHY4324)
  • Introduction to Electrodynamics, 4th Edition, Griffiths
Classical Mechanics (PHY3221 and PHY4222)
  • Classical Mechanics, Taylor
Modern Physics (PHY3101, includes special relativity)
  • Modern Physics, 4th Edition, Krane
Thermodynamics (PHY3513) and Statistical Mechanics (PHY4523)
  • Concepts in Thermal Physics, 2nd Edition, Blundell and Blundell
  • Introductory Statistical Mechanics, 2nd Edition, Bowley and Sanchez

Previous Preliminary Exams

DateExams
August 2021Part A  Part B  Part C  Part D
January 2020Part A  Part B  Part C  Part D
August 2019Part A  Part B  Part C  Part D
January 2019Part A  Part B  Part C  Part D
August 2018Part A  Part B  Part C  Part D
January 2018Part A  Part B  Part C  Part D
August 2017Part A  Part B  Part C  Part D
January 2017Part A  Part B  Part C  Part D
August 2016Part A  Part B  Part C  Part D
January 2016Part A  Part B  Part C  Part D
August 2015Part A  Part B  Part C  Part D
January 2015 Part A  Part B  Part C  Part D
August 2014Part A  Part B  Part C  Part D
January 2014Part A  Part B  Part C  Part D
August 2013Part A  Part B  Part C  Part D
January 2013Part A  Part B  Part C  Part D
August 2012Part A  Part B  Part C  Part D
January 2012Part A  Part B  Part C  Part D
August 2011Part A  Part B  Part C  Part D
January 2011Part A  Part B  Part C  Part D
August 2010Part A  Part B  Part C  Part D
January 2008Part A  Part B  Part C  Part D
August 2008Part A  Part B  Part C  Part D