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Prelim Lore

Page history last edited by Chris Mankovich 2 years, 7 months ago

The Prelim

You have two attempts to pass the Prelim, during the summer of your first and second years. The exam usually takes place over an entire day (8AM to 5PM). The date of the exam is typically on the department website's google calendar, but typically is during the last week of June. It was most recently (2017) held in ISB 102. 


This exam consists of two questions from each of the following classes: 

  • 220A: Stellar Structure and Evolution
  • 204: Astrophysical Flows
  • 202: Radiative Processes
  • 230: Diffuse Matter in Space
  • 212: Dynamical Astronomy
  • 233: Physical Cosmology


You are allowed a scientific calculator. Scratch paper is available and necessary because you are supposed to only use one side of a sheet of paper and the exam questions are long.


You do not have to stay the entire time; personal breaks are allowed and unofficially advised. 


Although it may be self-evident, you will likely not have taken three of the aforementioned courses if you attempt the prelim in your first year. The test is blind-graded, and faculty will only know the names of the first years who passed. They will not know who attempted the exam either.


You can find old versions of the tests at the department website here. Note: there used to be a prelim exam for your elective classes, but that was removed in Spring 2017.


*Unofficial* Lore

The passing line is set to be a different score each year but is roughly 60% of the points to pass as a second year and 70% to pass as a first year. Yes, it is a lower standard to pass during your second year.


If you fail to pass the exam after your second year, you might still pass the Board Review with a conditional pass. The conditions of a conditional pass vary but can include retaking a class or submitting a paper by a deadline.  Passing the prelim is not strictly necessary or sufficient for fully passing the Board Review. A good relationship with your advisor is generally considered one of the best ways of insuring that you will pass the board review. To that end we have developed semi-annual student_advisor forms to help you develop a healthy relation with your advisor.


How Seriously Should You Take the Exam

People have different feelings about the prelim, some saying not to worry about it and others saying it is very important to study quite hard. That decision is ultimately up to you. The general consensus is that it is very important that you do pass the exam, so you need to do however much studying is necessary to do so (not much help is it?). That being said, you don't need to ace it. When you are looking for a job, no one is going to care what your score on the prelim was.


Past prelim exams and solutions


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