Physics

Junior Qualifying Exam

At Reed, all students must pass the junior qualifying examination in order to be classified as seniors as dictated in the Reed College Catalog as follows:

After declaring the major, students must pass a qualifying examination administered by the major department and/or interdisciplinary committee before being allowed to begin a thesis in the senior year. Typically, these examinations are given near the end of the junior year. The objectives of the qualifying examination are to gauge the student’s mastery of the discipline or related disciplines, to serve as a diagnostic aid in identifying weaknesses in the student’s preparation for advanced study or thesis work in that discipline, to assist the student in unifying the knowledge of a major field of study, and to assist the major department or interdivisional committee in assessing the effectiveness of its own program. It is possible that a student who does not demonstrate competence in a field may be required to take further work. The review may also identify those who appear to need more time to develop their capabilities for the sustained independent work of the senior thesis. A second failure of the qualifying examination will debar the student from candidacy for a degree in that department. The student may be encouraged to transfer to another department or division.

The qualifying examination is not meant to qualify only the best students and in actuality does not operate that way. The student’s performance in the examination as well as in all previous coursework is discussed in full departmental or interdisciplinary committee meetings to assess the student’s readiness to begin work on a thesis.

The Reed Physics qualifying examination is a four-hour closed-book written test focusing on material covered in our first-year (Physics 101 and 102) and second-year (Physics 201 and 202) introductory courses. The exam is administered in the beginning of the Spring Semester and consists of 20 problems on topics covered in the four semesters of introductory physics lectures and laboratories. The 20 problems are organized into the following five sections, with four problems in each section: Physics 101, Physics 102, Physics 201, Physics 202, and Laboratory.

The Physics Department has designed its junior qualifying exam in this fashion for the following reasons: (1) demonstrating command of the first- and second-year physics course material is essential for successful completion of a physics thesis, (2) studying for an exam on this material is a valuable exercise, which allows students to consolidate their acquired knowledge, and (3) a written exam is an effective way to assess proficiency with this material.