I, Kevin, have been attending MIT as a grad student studying plasma physics since August 2009. In order to continue towards my final degree, I had to pass a Qualifying Exam along with my fellow classmates. The Exam is conducted in to two parts.
First, a written exam is administered consisting of material from 4 different classes I have taken since coming to MIT. An hour and a half long exam is written for each course. So, on January 28th from 9am-12pm we took 2 exams and then from 1:30pm-4:30pm we took the last 2 exams. It made for a long day. (My classmates and I used the 3 Saturdays leading up to the test to duplicate the testing environment and take practice exams from previous years.)
Second, I took an oral exam on February 7. This exam started with me giving a 10 minute presentation to four faculty members. When I finished, the exam committee asked questions over anything I mentioned during my presentation to test my knowledge. This continued for 30 mins. Then, I was given a preconceived question chosen by the committee to answer. While answering the question, the committee probed for deeper meaning or caught me in contradictions to test my understanding and ability to answer confidently and accurately, relatively quickly. This went on for about 45 mins. This was the extent of the qualifying exam.
The day that I took my orals was the same day that we were to be told the results. At 6 p.m., the Nuclear Science and Engineering Department held a post-quals celebration. At 9 p.m., we who had taken the exam were to return to the theory lounge of the Plasma Science and Fusion Center to be notified. The video below is of three of us walking down the hall to the lounge.
We sat down and waited...
First, Ian and Chi were taken away, then Christian, and finally Mike. I was left alone in the lounge for only about five minutes, but time slowly but surely pressed on. My advisor called for me down the hall. As I walked towards the room where I was to be told, I went over the possibilities in my head. Will I have to do this all over again in one year? What do I do next? I rounded the corner and my advisor put out his hand. "Congratulations, Kevin, you passed."