Qualifying Examination

The Qualifying Examination (QE or orals) in Mathematics is an oral examination that covers three principal topics, two of which are designated as major topics, and one as a minor topic; the minor topic is examined in less depth than the major topics. The intent of the QE is to ascertain the breadth of the student's comprehension in the selected subject areas, and to determine whether the student has the ability to think incisively and critically about the theoretical and practical aspects of the topics. The exam is administered by a faculty committee of four members and lasts approximately 3 hours. The result of the exam is decided via a committee vote. Possible results include, pass, partial fail, and total fail. Students who receive a partial or total fail may be granted, by the committee, a second opportunity to take the exam on some or all of the topics covered, or may be recommended for dismissal from the Ph.D. program.  


For Current Students

Students in the Mathematics Ph.D. program are required to attempt the QE before the start of their third year in the program (within 24 months of matriculation). The Graduate Office has accommodated requests for short extensions of this time frame so that students may take their orals in the fall term of their third year. Such requests must be made in advance to and approved by the Vice Chair for Graduate Studies. Any further request for extension must be approved by Committee Omega. 


Most QE exams take place over the fall or spring terms as faculty are often away from campus during the summer months. 


**For international students, it is quite crucial that students pass their orals and advance to candidacy before the start of the fall term of their third year. Advancing to candidacy initiates a 3-year (calendar year) Nonresident Suppelemental Tuition (NRST) reduction. In most circumstances, the program only agrees to pay NRST for international students for 4 semesters, so to avoid paying NRST on one's own in the third year, students must advance to candidacy and trigger the NRST reduction.**


Steps to Scheduling the Qualifying Examination 

1. Identify a Faculty Advisor (Dissertation Chair): To arrange the Qualifying Examination, you must first settle on an area of concentration, and identify and secure a prospective Dissertation Chair (Faculty Advisor) – someone who agrees to supervise your dissertation research if the examination is passed. 

2. Committee Formation: Two months before the date of the exam, you must constitute the QE committee. Students should seek advice from their prospective dissertation chair (faculty advisor) when putting together their exam committee. The committee must consist of four faculty members. At least two and preferably three should be faculty in the Mathematics Department. At least one member must be from a discipline outside mathematics (e.g., Computer Science, Stat, Physics, Econ, etc.) and a member of the Berkeley Academic Senate. The Math member least likely to serve as the dissertation advisor should be selected as chair of the qualifying exam committee.


3. Create an Exam Syllabus: In consultation with the chair of the QE committee, you will write up an exam syllabus. Sample syllabi and a list of faculty who have served as outside members (formally called Academic Senate Representatives (ASR)) in the past are all available in the QE binder in the Graduate office. The syllabus must indicate the departmental sections for which you will be examined and must be approved by the exam committee.


4. Distribution of Exam Syllabus to Faculty: 6 weeks before the exam, you should send a PDF copy of the QE syllabus to the Graduate Advisor who will distibute it to all faculty in the two (or three) sections in which you will be examined. You should allow for two weeks for a response from the faculty. If feedback on the syllabus content is received, the student must then consult the chair of the exam committee and their prospective advisor before proceeding with changes to the syllabus.


5. Exam Logistics: 4 weeks before the date of the exam, the student reserves a room using the room reservation binder in the Main Office (920 Evans). Any department space with a chalk or white board (aside from 1015) should be suitable for the exam. If a room in the department is not available you can ask Marsha Snow to reserve a room in Evans from the central Scheduling Office.  


4 weeks before the exam you should also submit the Departmental Application for the QE, which provides important information on the exam to the Graduate Office, and the Graduate Division Application for the Qualifying Examination which is an eForm housed in CalCentral. The eForm is called, “Higher Degrees Committees Form.”  Once your exam is formally approved at the Graduate Division level you will see a notice of approval on the My Academics tab of your CalCentral account. Please note that the exam will not be valid until approved at the Graduate Division level. Failure to submit the application four weeks prior to your exam may require you to reschedule the exam!

Two or three days before the exam date, the student should send a reminder to all committee members with all exam details (date, location, time) and a copy of the syllabus.   


Your student file and QE Report form will be supplied to the QE Chair by the Graduate Advisor. At the conclusion of the exam, the QE committee submits the exam results via the QE Report to the Graduate Office, which is then submitted to Graduate Division. 

Once you have passed the QE you are required to advance to candidacy before the start of the following semester.  Students who fail to advance to candidacy in the stated time will have an enrollment hold placed on their account. 


QE Resource Folder

The QE Resource Folder includes copies of past student syllabi, a QE syllabus template, a list of faculty from outside of the Math Department who have served as Academic Senate Representatives (Outside Member), and other useful documents.  You must be logged into your @berkeley.edu email account to access this folder.