Policy on the Comprehensive and Honors Qualifying Examination in Mathematics

1. The Chair will appoint at least one member of the Department as Mathematics comprehensives advisor(s), to be responsible for the Comprehensive and Honors Qualifying Examination in Mathematics.  The Mathematics comprehensive advisor(s) will coordinate with the Statistics honors qualifying advisor.

2. The Comprehensive Examination will be administered early in the second semester of each year and, for those who must take it again, later in the same semester. The exam will have a three-hour time limit. Each part of the exam will be graded by at least two members of the Department. Grades will be assigned in four categories: High Pass, Pass, Conditional Pass, and Fail.

3. The exam will consist of two parts, covering material from three courses. The core part will cover Multivariable Calculus (Math 211) and Linear Algebra (Math 271 or 272), and for the other part, the student has a choice of Algebra (Math 350) or Analysis (Math 355). Students are strongly encouraged to consult with their advisor about which course to choose. Syllabi for all of these courses are available from the departmental comps web site.

4. Students who wish to pursue the Honors program must take the Honors Qualifying Examination in their junior year and receive a High Pass on each part (and then submit a thesis proposal; please read the page on Honors). The Honors Qualifying Examination covers the same topics as the Comprehensive Exam but may contain some more challenging problems. Receiving at least a Pass on both parts of the Qualifying Examination in the same round will count as passing the Comprehensive Exam, whether or not the student retakes the exam to attempt a High Pass.

5. All Mathematics majors, except those who simultaneously passed both parts of the Honors Qualifying Examination as juniors, will be required to take the Comprehensive Examination in their senior year.  For these students, passing the Comprehensive Examination means getting at least a Pass on each part.

6. A rough rule-of-thumb is that a High Pass means 80% or better, a Pass means between 60% and 80%, a Conditional Pass means between 50% and 60%, and a Fail means 50% or lower. These percentages are not fixed and may vary depending on the difficulty of the exam.

7. When a senior major gets a Conditional Pass on a part of the Comprehensive Examination, they will be given a set of problems that deal with those topics that gave the student the most difficulty on that part of the exam. The student will work on these problems in consultation with the comprehensives advisor and the student's advisor. It is not permissible to consult other people except with the permission of the comprehensives advisor. Within five weeks of taking the written exam, the student will present the solutions orally to two faculty members chosen by the comprehensives advisor. The oral exam will also involve problems the student has not seen before which are similar to those the student has prepared. Upon successful completion of the oral exam, the student's grade on this part of the Comprehensive Examination will be changed to Pass. However, the grade will be changed to Fail if the oral exam is deemed unsuccessful by the faculty conducting the oral exam.

8. When a senior major takes the Comprehensive Examination and gets a grade of Fail on a part of the exam, they will need to retake that part of the exam.  If the retake involves only one part of the exam, the time limit is two hours when retaking the core and one hour when retaking the Algebra or Analysis part of the exam.  Note that a retake after failing a second time is governed by item 9 below.

9. The number of times a senior can take the Comprehensive Examination is governed by College policy (see the last paragraph of the section ``The Major Requirement'' in the Catalog).  The current policy specifies at most two attempts during the senior's last semester at the College.  Missing the first scheduled administration of the exam counts as an attempt, with exceptions only by petition to the department. The policy does allow a third attempt, though this usually involves a delay in graduation.  In this situation, the senior must return to campus to take the examination and must get a grade of Pass on all parts of the exam taken.

10. When a junior major gets a High Pass on one part of the Honors Qualifying Examination and a Pass on the other part, they will be asked to retake only the part on which the Pass was obtained. The time limit is two hours when retaking the core and one hour when retaking the Algebra or Analysis part of the exam.  Otherwise, a junior failing to achieve High Pass on both parts of the exam will need to retake the entire exam to qualify for Honors. A junior will be allowed at most two attempts on the Honors Qualifying Examination. Missing the first scheduled administration of the exam counts as an attempt, with exceptions only by petition to the department.

11. When either a junior or senior retakes the exam, the second part (Algebra or Analysis) should cover the same course as on the first attempt.  Switching from Algebra to Analysis (or vice versa) for the retake requires permission of the student's advisor.

Last updated: September, 2017