Proficiency Exams for Graduate Students

The department schedules a proficiency exam for incoming graduate students at the start of the Fall semester.  This exam covers four key undergraduate astronomy classes: ASTR 404, 405, 406, and 414.  Please see the Course Catalog for descriptions of these courses.  This exam is used to recommend coursework placement for incoming students.  M.S. and Ph.D. students must show proficiency in each of the four courses by one of the following options:

  • Pass the appropriate section of the placement exam (four sections aligned to the four courses), offered at the start of every Fall semester.  A student can petition to take the exam once more in the following year.  The decision on petition approval by the Graduate Advisor will depend on the student’s background and proficiency plan.
  • Pass the course with a B grade or better. Currently each course is offered once per academic year. If a more advanced course on the same or a similar topic is offered in the student’s first year, that course may be substituted with the permission of the Graduate Advisor.
  • Students who have achieved a B grade or better in an equivalent course may petition for those courses to count as proficiency.  For the petition you need a brief description of the course(s), accompanied by the syllabus, textbook title(s), and copies of homework and exams administered if possible. An explicit comparison of the prior course to its counterpart in the 404-414 series is required in the petition. The petition should be submitted electronically to the Graduate Advisor at and the chairperson of the Curriculum Committee (currently Prof. T. no later than June 1 (preferably earlier).  Decisions on petitions will be made as soon as possible after receipt, and no later than June 15.

Under normal circumstances, students are expected to pass all sections of the exam or pass the appropriate course (or equivalent) before the end of the 4th semester of graduate study.

Further information about each exam is provided below.  Solutions to prior exams are available from the Curriculum Committee chair, currently Prof. Tony Wong (