The Preliminary Exam is given each year in mid-September before the start of classes. The exam covers undergraduate and first-year graduate level physics. While some questions are standard textbook problems, others may require creativity, common sense, or synthesis of concepts across multiple topics. A syllabus and copies of past exams are provided to graduate students.
Normally students are expected to pass the exam at the beginning of their second year. Students who do not pass the exam on the first attempt can retake it the following year. Students entering with deficiencies in their undergraduate preparation may receive a one year deferment of the exam. Students may also take the exam before the beginning of their first year, which does not count as one of the student's two attempts at the exam.