Go to the U of M home page
School of Physics & Astronomy
School of Physics and Astronomy Wiki

How to prepare for the Graduate Written Exam (GWE)

The Graduate Written Exam (GWE) is a comprehensive exam around the core subjects of Physics that needs to be passed before the beginning of the second year of graduate study (a petition for an extension is possible).

There are three main ways to prepare for the exam: study the basic Physics curriculum, study and solve previous editions of the exam, attend preparatory sessions held in the School.

Basic Physics curriculum

The exam is broken up in two, four hour long, sessions on successive Thursday and Friday mornings. One is devoted to short questions (10 questions for 10 points each), and one to longer questions (5 questions, 20 points each). By topic, the short questions are on Classical Mechanics, Quantum Mechanics, Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics, Electromagnetism, Nuclear Physics, and Special Relativity. The long questions are typically on Classical Mechanics, Quantum Mechanics, Thermodynamics, Electromagnetism, and Special Relativity. Therefore the maximum score is 200 including both parts. The passing line is set every year by a vote of the full faculty of the School of Physics and Astronomy once the exam has been completed, and the (still anonymous) results are known.

The exam is prepared by a committee of Faculty which changes from year to year. There are no firm or set boundaries on what the scope of the questions is, and they are largely determined by those that comprise the committee on any given year. Just as a suggestion, you may want to make sure that you are familiar with the following material:

  • Classical Mechanics at an intermediate level, plus the special theory of relativity. Typical texts for classical mechanics are Taylor, Marion, and Fowles. For special relativity the book by French or the coverage found in the later chapters of Griffiths on electrodynamics.
  • Electricity and magnetism at the intermediate level. A typical text would be Griffiths.
  • Thermodynamics and Statistical Physics at the intermediate level as covered in Chapters 1 through 14 of Kittel and Kroemer, and Chapters 1 through 13 of Reif.
  • Quantum mechanics at the intermediate level. Typical texts would be Griffiths, and Shankar.
  • Topics in modern physics such as covered in any introductory, undergraduate text of the same title. For example the book by Gasiorowicz, Bernstein, and Fishbane, or indeed often the later chapters of introductory physics textbooks.

Previous GWE

The time honored process to learn Physics is to solve problems yourself. In addition to looking at problems in the textbooks above, we have made available past GWE's in the department. You can find them here.

Preparatory study sessions

There are weekly sessions after the graduate research seminar to go over problems from past years. Please contact the graduate coordinator in the front office for further information.

dgs_advice/preparation_for_the_graduate_written_exam.txt · Last modified: 2022/01/26 14:53 by vinals