7.4 Preliminary Exam

The objective of the Preliminary Examination is the early assessment of a student's potential for satisfactory completion of the doctoral degree.  The exams are entirely closed - no books or notes are allowed.


All students admitted to our doctorate programs are required to take the examination.  Students who have entered with a declared MS degree goal and who wish to add an ME doctorate degree must pass the examination as well.


The examination is given twice a year, during the first week of the Spring and Fall semesters, and must be taken following two semesters of registration as a graduate student at the latest.  Tests cannot be taken before entering the program.


College regulations state that a student studying for a doctoral degree should maintain a GPA of 3.5 or better in the major field, at least a 3.0 in the minor fields, and a 3.5 overall.  With this in mind, students are only admitted to the Preliminary Examination with a minimum of cumulative GPA of 3.3, and a 3.5 average in the major field based on work done at Berkeley.  Prior to passing the Preliminary Examination, all courses in the major field, with the exception of ME 299, must be taken for a letter grade.  A maximum of one-third of the total units of course work may be taken S/U.


There are eight (8) examination areas and only two (2) possible exam outcomes:  Pass and Not Pass.  The student must pass in their proposed doctoral major field area.  Students who are planning to change their Major Field Area must take and pass the new Major Field Area as well.  Students may review their solutions along with a typical recommendation solution to the problems with the area Advisor after the exam results are received.


The Preliminary Examination Committee will meet approximately one week after the last exam is given.  This gives the committee an adequate amount of time to gather results and meet to discuss each student's individual circumstance.  The results will be posted on the College of Engineering Graduate Student Info Web Application, followed by and individual email.  The results of the examinations will be one of the following:


  • Pass: Continue in the doctoral program (for change of degree goal candidates admission to doctoral program).  Such students then prepare for the PhD Oral Qualifying Examination.
  • Not Pass: The Examination Committee decides whether or not such students retake the examination a second time.
  • Fail: If a student fails to pass the examination in two (2) sittings, they will fail the preliminary examinations.  In these cases the student may:
    • - Change their degree goal from PhD (or MS/PhD) to MS only and leave with the MS degree at the end of the third semester after completing the applicable requirements.
    • - Petition the Preliminary Examination Committee for an additional sitting for a third attempt to pass the examinations.  In such a case, the student must write a request memo to the Preliminary Examination Chair for the committee's consideration.  Once the committee has met and decided on the request, the student will be notified of the result.  If the petition is not approved within the Normative Time permitted for the MS Degree, students must request to change their degree goal through a CalCentral eForm and leave the graduate program with the MS degree.  If the student has already been awarded an MS degree at another university, they will be asked to leave the program without a degree by the end of the same semester.


Preliminary Examination results are valid for five (5) years from the time you take them.  This is quite important if you leave the program and your tests expire in your absence.  If this becomes the case, you will need to retake the exam prior to the beginning of your first semester.


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