The Qualifying Exam (Quals)

The Qualifying Exam (Quals) is taken by all graduate students without exception before they begin research for the PhD and after no more than one term of residence. The exam consists of a written exam given over three days followed by an oral interview with a committee of three faculty members. The exam is usually given in January, before the start of classes. The exam is intended to test the student's knowledge of undergraduate physics and is usually taken during the student's first year. The exam also serves as a diagnostic tool to identify weaknesses in a student's physics preparation.

EXAM LEVEL:

The Quals is a test of undergraduate level physics. It covers: Classical Physics (Mechanics, E&M), Modern Physics (formal Quantum Mechanics, applied Quantum Mechanics, and Relativity), and General Physics (Thermodynamics, Optics, HEP, Nuclear, Astro, Atomic, Condensed Matter).

Recipients of a PhD in Physics at Columbia University should have a solid understanding of the fundamental subjects in our field at a level that would enable them to teach the material to undergraduate students majoring in physics.  In addition to testing this basic knowledge, the qualifying exam provides an opportunity for students to learn or relearn our field from a holistic perspective, while embarking on their graduate coursework and the more focused study of PhD research.  The quals also provide feedback for students coming from undergraduate educations that may have left deficiencies in their background knowledge that need to be corrected through additional coursework or dedicated study.
 
In order to help students prepare for the exams, below we provide a list, in each of the broad subject areas covered by the exam, of representative undergraduate-level textbooks and potential subject topics.  While these can serve as a guide, it is important to note that the actual quals problems are not limited to topics covered in these texts or by this list. We also encourage the ambitious student to consult a wider range of references than given by this list.
 

WRITTEN EXAM:

2018 Quals Exam:

Sections 1: Questions and Solutions

Sections 2: Questions and Solutions

Sections 3: Questions and Solutions

Sections 4: Questions and Solutions

Sections 5: Questions and Solutions

Sections 6: Questions and Solutions

 

2017 Quals Exam:

Sections 1: Questions and Solutions

Sections 2: Questions and Solutions

Sections 3: Questions and Solutions

Sections 4: Questions and Solutions

Sections 5: Questions and Solutions

Sections 6: Questions and Solutions

2016 Quals Exam:

Sections 1: Questions and Solutions

Sections 2: Questions and Solutions

Sections 3: Questions and Solutions

Sections 4: Questions and Solutions

Sections 5: Questions and Solutions

Sections 6: Questions and Solutions

2015 Quals Exam:

Sections 1: Questions and Solutions

Sections 2: Questions and Solutions

Sections 3: Questions and Solutions

Sections 4: Questions and Solutions

Sections 5: Questions and Solutions

Sections 6: Questions and Solutions

2014 Quals Exam:

Sections 1: Questions and Solutions

Sections 2: Questions and Solutions

Sections 3: Questions and Solutions

Sections 4: Questions and Solutions

Sections 5: Questions and Solutions

Sections 6: Questions and Solutions

2013 Quals Exam:

Sections 1: Questions and Solutions

Sections 2: Questions and Solutions

Sections 3: Questions and Solutions

Sections 4: Questions and Solutions

Sections 5: Questions and Solutions

Sections 6: Questions and Solutions

2012 Quals Exam:

Sections 1: Questions and Solutions

Sections 2: Questions and Solutions

Sections 3: Questions and Solutions

Sections 4: Questions and Solutions

Sections 5: Questions and Solutions

Sections 6: Questions and Solutions 

2011 Quals Exam:

Sections 1: Questions and Solutions

Sections 2: Questions and Solutions

Sections 3: Questions and Solutions

Sections 4: Questions and Solutions

Sections 5: Questions and Solutions

Sections 6: Questions and Solutions

2010 Quals Exam:

Sections 1: Questions and Solutions

Sections 2: Questions and Solutions

Sections 3: Questions and Solutions

Sections 4: Questions and Solutions

Sections 5: Questions and Solutions

Sections 6: Questions and Solutions

2009 Quals Exam:

Section 1: Classical Mechanics

Section 2: Electricity, Magnetism & Electrodynamics

Section 3: Quantum Mechanics

Section 4: Relativity and Applied Quantum Mechanics

Section 5: General Physics Part I

Section 6: General Physics Part II

2008 Quals Exam:

Section 1: Classical Mechanics

Section 2: Electricity, Magnetism & Electrodynamics

Section 3: Quantum Mechanics

Section 4: Relativity and Applied Quantum Mechanics

Section 5: General Physics Part I

Section 6: General Physics Part II

2007 Quals Exam:

Sections 1 & 2: Questions and Solutions

Sections 3 & 4: Questions and Solutions

Sections 5 & 6: Questions and Solutions

2006 Quals Exam:

Sections 1 & 2: Questions and Solutions

Sections 3 & 4: Questions and Solutions

Sections 5 & 6: Questions and Solutions

2005 Quals Exam:

Sections 1 & 2: Questions and Solutions

Sections 3 & 4: Questions and Solutions

Sections 5 & 6: Questions and Solutions

2004 Quals Exam:

Sections 1 & 2: Questions and Solutions

Sections 3 & 4: Questions and Solutions

Sections 5 & 6: Questions and Solutions