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Ph.D. Screening Exam

This is specific information for CSI students. More information can be found at the EE Department's PhD Screening page.

  • 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.