- Who takes the exam? Ph.D. students in the EE-Systems area must
take and pass the screening exam by the 4th semester of their Ph.D. program.
There are different groups in EE-Systems: CSI, CENG, SIPI, Controls. All of these
groups have their own exam format (this page describes the CSI format).
Students in the EE-Systems area can take the screening exam from any of the four groups.
Students who choose to take the CSI exam are typically more comfortable with the CSI
material, have taken classes from faculty in CSI, and/or are working with faculty in CSI.
However, it is possible for a student who is working with a CSI faculty member to take
the screening exam in CENG, SIPI, or Controls. It may also be
possible for students to take the exam on the EE-Physics side if that is more appropriate.
Talk to your advisor and/or a faculty member
if you have questions about which exam you should
- Application: You must apply through the EE-Systems Department
to take the screening exam.
To take the exam you should satisfy the following:
(1) You must currently be in the Ph.D. program in the EE Department at USC (2)
You must be within the first 4 semesters of your Ph.D. program at USC,
(3) You must currently
have a 3.5 GPA or higher. Exceptions to these requirements are
considered on a case-by-case basis after a petition has been submitted to the department.
- Pre-Exam Meeting: A faculty member in the communications group will serve as coordinator for the exam. This professor will call a meeting of the students taking the exam approximately one month before the exam. The coordinator will review the information on this page and address any questions that the students have at that time.
- Timetable: The screening exam is given near the 12th week of the semester, every Fall and
Students must pass this exam prior to the end of their second year in the USC Ph.D. program.
This two year period will start the first semester of USC Ph.D. study, and does not include
any time spent in the MSEE program at USC or other institutions. Students who do not pass
the exam on their first attempt can take the exam again. This is typically done during
the following semester, but should be
within the two year timeframe in any case. Thus, it is strongly encouraged that
all students first take the exam by the third semester.
- Exam Format: Our exam is a series of 30 minute oral exams (note that other groups in EE-Systems have different formats). Each student sits in an office on the 5th floor of EEB and the professors move from room to room giving the exams. The exam is usually given over the course of one or two days.
Students can now choose 6 topics out of the traditional 8. Exams focus on basic concepts, with the potential for some open-ended questioning. The topics covered are:
- Transform Theory (EE 401)
- Linear Systems (EE 301)
- Random Processes (EE 562a)
- Probability and Random Variables (EE 464)
- Linear Algebra (EE 441)
- Combinatorics (no specfic course). Materials are found in Chapter 2, of Feller, W. An Introduction to Probability Theory and Its Applications, vol 1, John Wiley & Sons, 1968.
- Signal Analysis (EE 467)
- Electromagnetics (EE 330 and EE 470)
First the students choose 6 topics without knowing who examines each topic.
Then we assign the professors on the topics based on demand and load balancing.
More than one professor can examine the same topic if multiple students ask one topic.
- Why do we have a screening exam? And why this format?
- This tests students on topics that they may later teach.
- This is a rough measure to judge research ability.
- This is a chance for all CSI students to meet CSI faculty.
- Grading: each professor will grade your exam on a range of 1-10, corresponding to Fail (1-3), Marginal (4-6), and Pass (7-10). The communications faculty then meet to discuss the overall exam pass level. Generally, students who have done well on all exams pass and students who have done poorly on several exams do not pass. For students in the middle, the faculty consider factors in addition to the oral exam performace, such as GPA, GRE scores, research experience, and prior personal interaction.
The raw exam scores are not disclosed. Students who do not pass the exam are encouraged to meet with the exam faculty coordinator to get a better understanding of the areas where improvement is necessary.
Students who do not pass the exam on their first attempt can take the exam again. This is typically done during the following semester, but should be within the two-year timeframe in any case.
- Suggestions: Based on feedback from students, we suggest the following steps for preparation:
- Meet the professors. If you have not had a class from some of the professors, you should stop by their office during office hours and introduce yourself. Feel free to ask questions about their exam format, philosophy, and content.
- Work problems. During the exam, you will be asked to work problems out, not just give definitions. The best practice for this is working out problems from the course. Exams from the class are an excellent source of problems since these are usually focused on major concepts from the class.
- Practice oral exams. Team up with others taking the exam and give each other mock exams. Oral exams have a different dynamic than written exams and it is best to get a feel for that prior to the exam.
- Prepare your exam room. Make sure that you can reach all areas of the whiteboard and that you have working markers and erasers. You can move a desk or ask the CSI staff for supplies. As trivial as this sounds, you want to be comfortable in your workspace during the exam.