Junior Qualifying Exam is given in the spring of the third
year. Without successful passage, students cannot go on to
their fourth year. This is a college-wide policy, but the
form of the Jr Qual varies widely from department to department.
In Physics, it is a systematic and integrative review of material
presented during the first two years, a warm-up for the graduate
qualifying exam. A closed-note, written, four-hour exam of
26 problems testing eight broad areas of physics, it is given
in early February.
who fail are allowed to take the Jr Qual a second time. Borderline
cases may receive a conditional pass. "We invented the
latter, which has now been adopted college-wide," says
David Griffiths. "If students do marginally, they must
retake the subjects they did poorly in, and we find that that
really helps them. Most then pull through the exam well on
the second try."
faculty rarely fail students," Griffiths adds, "but
we fail more than any other department. The physics Jr Qual
is harsh, but we dont want students getting into the
field if they are not cut out for it. Most students who do
fail dont leave Reed; instead they transfer into Math,
where most do very well. We have found over the years that
most students who do poorly on the physics Jr Qual do poorly
on their thesis, so it is a helpful indicator."
Powell feels somewhat more conflicted about the use of the
Jr Qual. "This department (and the college in general)
cares a lot about students who are in trouble," he says.
"But what is the best way to do that? Give hard grades
and be prepared to fail students in all their classes, or
let them get as far as Jr Qual and then face harder choices?
I dont believe that passing weaker students is holding
them up to the standards that we should.
the last three years, this has been changing. Weve been
doing a better job of identifying who will have problems in
their junior year, and sending letters to students who are
having trouble in Physics 200, advising them to think seriously
about their choice of major."
Reed Physics Department
Era of Experimentalists: 1911-1963
Era of Theoretical Physics: 1963-1897
Structure and Issues
The Role of Research
and the Integration of Research and Teaching
Relations with Students
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