General Exams

For both areas of concentration in Electrical Engineering, Master’s comprehensive and Doctoral general exams (written part) are each given twice yearly, generally in January and May. Except for where noted below under a track, the exams are to be of the open-book/open-notes variety, and one hour per question is allotted. An oral exam is mandatory for Ph.D. students, and usually takes place shortly after the written exam; for Master’s students an oral exam may follow the written exam at the discretion of the student’s advisory committee. The written exams are structured as follows:

Systems Group MS Comprehensive and PhD General Exams (Dr. Shalabh Gupta)

Schedule of Exams:

The PhD General Exam will be conducted over a period of 3 days while the MS Comprehensive Exam will be conducted over a period of 2 days as described by the following schedule:

  • Day 1, 9:00 am – noon
    Two mandatory courses for both PhD and MS students:

     – ECE 5101:  Introduction to Systems Theory
     – ECE 6122:  Digital Signal Processing

  • Day 2, 9:00 am – 1:30 pm 
    Two mandatory courses for both PhD and MS students:

     – ECE 6111:  Applied Probability and Stochastic Processes
     – ECE 6439:  Estimation and Filtering Theory

        Additional one optional course for MS Comprehensive from either:

     – ECE 6151:  Communication Theory
     – ECE 6123: Advanced Signal Processing

  • Day 3, 9:00 am – 1:30 pm 
    Three optional courses for the PhD General Exam:

     – Questions from one of the following: ECE 6121, 6123, 6151, 6437, 6099, as chosen by the student, plus two additional courses of the student’s choice. These three courses could be different for different people.

Mandatory Courses for Both PhD and MS:

ECE 5101 (301) Introduction to System Theory
ECE 6122 (316) Digital Signal Processing
ECE 6111 (313) Applied Probability and Stochastic Processes
ECE 6439 (362) Estimation and Filter Theory

Exam Policies:

  1. The exams are OPEN book. No internet access is allowed.
  2. All exams for a day will be distributed at the beginning. Each subject will have a 1.5 hr duration. The recommendation for the students is (a) to dedicate 1 hr/subject and go through all of them, then (b) go back and reread/finish each of them. All exams will be collected back together at the end of total time.
  3. Passing grade policy: i. Failure in a subject: < 5; ii. Minimum overall passing average: 6.5 and no failure in any subject.
  4. Retake policy: If a student fails in 1 subject, retake only that exam next time if the average is at least 6.5. Otherwise take all the exams again next time. Failure in 2 or more subjects: full retake regardless of average.
  5. Oral exam policy: The oral exam has to be taken within 3 months after passing the written exam. 
    i. General Oral Exam: Each student has to take the oral exam with their committee. Other instructors can join if they wish. Any questions can be asked related to the courses taken by the candidate.
    ii. Subject Oral Exam: A student has to take the oral exam(s) with the instructor(s) in whose subject(s) the grade was < 6.5. This exam could be combined with the General Oral Exam if agreed by the committee and the subject instructor(s) and based on their common availability.
  6. Number of attempts: A student has a maximum of 3 attempts to pass the PhD General or MS Comprehensive exam. If anyone is unable to pass in 3 attempts, then he/she will be automatically removed from the corresponding program.
  7. The problems for any subject will be different for MS Comprehensive and PhD General Exam.
  8. Any student not in the Systems Group but wishing to take exams from the System courses should take all those exams together; i.e., NOT to take exams separately at different times and accumulate the outputs.

Further Notes and Admonitions:

  1. Students registered for the exam should reach the examination room 10 mins before the start time.
  2. There are some old exams available for studying. See Dee at ITE 450. Please photocopy them, and don’t abuse them. There is no guarantee that a future exam will look anything like a past one.


Electronics/Photonics/Biophotonics Track (Dr. Helena Silva)

Approved by the Electronics/Photonics/Biophotonics division in Spring 2014

  1. The general exams will be given twice per year (January and May), in general, during the same week as the Systems general exams.
  2. Written Exams will be required on 6 courses (PhD) or 3 courses (MS-Plan B) from the courses/areas listed below. General Exams may not be taken on independent study courses.
  3. Exams will be closed books / closed notes / no computers, phones, etc.
  4. There will be an oral component of the general exam (typically as part of the prospectus defense).
  5. An average score of at least 70% will be required for passing the written exams taken by a student (exact passing score is instructor’s decision depending upon exam difficulty).
  6. Ph.D. Students will be required to finish their exams within their first 6 semesters.
  7. Students will have only 2 attempts to pass their exams. The student needs to repeat only the failed exams.
  8. Students will have to take the exams either all at the same time or in blocks of three courses at a time.

Courses/Areas for non-track-specific Electronics/Photonics/Biophotonics Exams

A student will select the 3 (MS) or 6 (PhD) courses for the written exams in consultation with his/her advisory committee. For both MS and PhD exams, at least one course each should be chosen from each area.

AREA ONE: EM/Photonics (choose at least one course)

  1. ECE 5201: Electromagnetic Wave Propagation / Bansal
  2. ECE 5231: Fundamentals of Photonics / Taylor

AREA TWO: Semiconductor/Optoelectronic devices (choose at least one course)

GROUP 2.A (intended primarily for electronics/photonics students)

  1. ECE 5211: Semiconductor Devices and Models / Ayers, Anwar
  2. ECE 6222: Advanced Semiconductor Devices / Donkor
  3. ECE 5225 Electron Device Design and Characterization / Gokirmak
  4. ECE 5212: Fundamentals of Optoelectronic Devices / Jain
  5. ECE 5232: Optoelectronic Devices/ Taylor

OR GROUP 2.B (intended primarily for Bio-Photonics students: exam format determined by the instructor)

  1. ECE 5101: Introductions to Systems Theory/ Luh
  2. ECE 6111: Applied Probability and Stochastic Process/ Pattipati
  3. ECE 6122: Digital Signal Processing/ Willett
  4. ECE 6439: Estimation and Filter Theory/ Bar-Shalom
  5. ECE 6121: Advanced Signal Processing/ Willett
  6. ECE 6125: Digital Image Processing/Javidi
  7. ECE/BME 6143: Image Recognition/Javidi
  8. BME 5210: Biomedical Optics/ Zhu

AREA THREE: Applications (choose at least one course)

  1. ECE 6243: Nanotechnology/ Jain
  2. ECE 5223: Nanophotonics/ Donkor
  3. ECE 6242: VLSI Fabrication Principles/ Ayerr
  4. ECE 6211: Antenna Theory and Applications / Bansal
  5. ECE 6212: Microwave Techniques / Bansal
  6. ECE/BME 6126: Optics for Biomedical Engineers/ Javidi
  7. BME 6420  Medical Imaging Systems/ Zhu
  8. ECE 6421 Advanced VLSI Design / Wang
  9. ECE 6095 Special Topics: Memory Devices and Technology / Silva
  10. ECE 6095 Special Topics: Solar Photovoltaic Energy Conversion / Bazzi
  11. ECE 6095 Special Topics: Metamaterials/Tonn


Biophotonics Track

For students pursuing a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering in the Biophotonics track, grades of B and above are required in the following courses:

BME 5100: Physiological Modeling (life science course required for BME Major)
BME 5210: Biomedical Optics: Tissue optics, instruments, and imaging
BME 6450: Optical Microscopy and Bio-imaging
BME 6500/ECE 6301: Biomedical Instrumentation I
ECE 5101: Introduction to System Theory
ECE 5201: Electromagnetic Wave Propagation
ECE 5231: Fundamentals of Photonics
ECE/BME 6125: Digital Image Processing
ECE/BME 6126: Opticcs for Biomedical Engineers
ECE/BME 6143: Image Recognition


Computer Engineering Track (Dr. John Chandy)

The computer engineering exams is four hours long and consists of four questions listed below. Corresponding courses in which the subject matter is tested are also listed. The problems are at the level of advanced undergraduate and beginning graduate courses in the area, but are not necessarily restricted to the material covered in these specific courses. Both Ph.D. and M.S. Plan B students are required to pass this section.

Computer Architecture

  1. ECE 4302 Computer Organization and Architecture
  2. ECE 5402 Computer Architecture

VLSI Design and Digital Logic Design

  1. ECE 3421 VLSI Design and Simulation 

  2. ECE 5401 Digital Systems Design 

  3. ECE 6421 Advanced Digital VLSI Design


  1. CSE 4300 Operating Systems
  2. CSE 5300 Advanced Computer Networks
  3. CSE 5306 Advanced Operating Systems
  4. ECE 6095 Advanced Storage Systems


  1. CSE 3500 Algorithms and Complexity
  2. CSE 5500 Algorithms


Power and Energy Track (Dr. Shalabh Gupta)

The general exams for the power and energy track will be administered over a 3 day period at 4-hour blocks.  All Ph.D. students must pass 7 exams among listed courses.  They must take at least 3 exams or can take up to 4 exams from day one and two courses.  After that, they need to take either 3 or 4 exams to fulfill 7 exams from day three courses.  M.S. plan B students must pass 4 exams (2 exams in day one/two and 2 exams in day three).  An entire block of exams should be taken together.  The exam courses are listed below:

Day One and Two: M.S. & Ph.D. Exams on Core Courses

  1. ECE 5101: Introduction to Systems Theory
  2. ECE 6111: Applied Probability and Stochastic Processes
  3. ECE 6122: Digital Signal Processing
  4. ECE 6439: Estimation and Filtering Theory

Day Three: Ph.D. Exams on Power and Energy Courses

  1. ECE 3231: Introduction to Modern Power Systems
  2. ECE 5510: Power System Analysis
  3. ECE 5520: Advanced Power Electronics
  4. ECE 5530: Modeling and Control of Electric Drives
  5. ECE 5540: Electrical System Protection and Switchgear
  6. ECE 5550: Microgrids
  7. ECE 6437: Computational Methods for Optimization
  8. ECE 6095: Renewable Energy Power Conversion Systems
  9. ECE 6095: Electromagnetic Transients in Power and Energy Systems
  10. ECE 6095: Solar Photovoltaic Energy Conversion
  11. ECE 6095: Converter Modeling and Control
  12. ECE 6095: Inverter Modeling and Control
  13. ECE 6095: Power Conditioning Systems
  14. ECE 6095: Advanced Smart Grid Technologies
  15. ECE 6226: Power Network Dynamics and Simulation

Note: The “Power and Energy Track” general exam requirements will be revised by the end of April of each year.  Courses and requirements are subject to change.