As part of the requirement for a PhD degree, MIT requires a General Examination, which includes both an oral and written part. No other general written examinations are required. In particular, no qualifying (or entrance) examinations are given. Cumulative Exams are the written component of the General Examination for the PhD degree and the Oral Examination for the PhD in Chemistry must be passed by the end of the fourth semester of graduate study.

Cumulative Exams

The cumulative exams are written by the faculty on a rotating basis, and examine general knowledge in each area of chemistry, including recent developments as reported in the current literature and in Departmental Colloquia. However, if a faculty member does write a question on the subject of a recent seminar, the faculty member must provide enough information so that students whose TA responsibilities prevented attendance at the seminar do not suffer any disadvantage. Copies of previous exams are available on the Cumulative Exam Archive (certificates are required for access). Students must pass a total of six exams to complete the requirement. To pass an exam, students must receive a grade of A or B; however, a grade of C will be paired with a grade of A to yield two "passes."

The exams are given once each month from October to May, totaling eight exams during each academic year. At each exam session, four exams are available (in biological, organic, inorganic, and physical chemistry), and students are free to choose which exam(s) to take. Although students need only take one exam per session, they are welcome to attempt more than one exam during the 90-minute examination period. At least three of the six cumulative exams that students pass to satisfy the requirement must be in their principal area of study. The department expects a demonstrated passing performance in cumulative exams before students take their second year oral exams, and it is normal to pass at least four exams by that time.

First-year students are expected to begin taking cumulative exams by February of their first year. They may take as many cumulative exams as they would like to during the first term. However, once the second term has started in February, students are expected to take cumulative exams every month (8 exams per year) until they have passed the required amount. If for some reason a student begins a cumulative exam but does not turn it in, he or she must turn in a written note to the proctor indicating that he or she attempted the exam but are not submitting it to be graded.

The Cumulative Exam Schedule for the 2016-2017 academic year is listed below. Exams are from 7:00-8:30pm and are held in 6-120. Any changes to the locations will be announced via email. Graded exams can be picked up in the Chemistry Education Office (6-205); email notifications are sent out when the graded exams are returned.

Monday, October 16, 2017
Monday, November 13, 2017
Monday, December 11, 2017
Monday, January 8, 2018
Monday, February 12, 2018
Monday, March 12, 2018
Wednesday, April 9, 2018
Monday, May 7, 2018

The Oral Examination

The oral part of the General Examination for the PhD in Chemistry must be passed by the end of the fourth semester of graduate study. Students who have not satisfied the oral examination requirement by the beginning of their third year will be denied further registration as a graduate student in the department. This component of the general exam, required by MIT for all PhD candidates, focuses on general knowledge in the degree field of study. Students should consult the appropriate Graduate Registration Officer for information on the specific format and scheduling of the oral examination in their research area as there are differences in timing and format for the exam in each area of chemistry. More information is also available in the Guide for Graduate Students (certificates are required for access).