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PHYS 202 Foundations of Physics (Preliminary Exam)

Starting in fall 2022, students review knowledge of quantum mechanics, electrodynamics, and classical mechanics at the undergraduate level via the course PHYS 202 Foundations of Physics. For each subject, students can either take and pass an "opt-out" exam at the beginning of the course, or take the review course (4 weeks per subject). The definition of the tested knowledge is as below, and is comparable to the "preliminary exams" we conducted until spring 2022.

  • Quantum Mechanics at the level of "Introduction to Quantum Mechanics", by D. J. Griffiths (example syllabus: 137.pdf)
  • Electrodynamics at the level of "Introduction to Electrodynamics", by D. J. Griffiths (example syllabus: 110.pdf)
  • Classical Mechanics at the level of "Classical Mechanics" by J. R. Taylor (example syllabus: 105.pdf)

Fall 2023 Opt-out exam: Saturday, September 2. Plan on all day, two hours per subject. Students are allowed to have a formula sheet (letter size, only one-side not both) for each subject. For each subject, you will have the choice of two out of three problems to solve.

Full information from the 2022 Policies and Procedures:

All students in the group are required to pass a one-semester required review course PHYS 202 of undergraduate-level understanding of the fundamental concepts in the field. This course is offered at the beginning of the fall semester every year, and all students are required to take it within their first year unless a petition for taking it at a specific time is approved by the Graduate Program Chair. The course will review three subjects in one course – Classical Mechanics, Quantum Mechanics and Electromagnetism. Each subject is reviewed independently. The grade is S/U with S equivalent to B+ or higher of the corresponding undergraduate courses. Students may opt out of the review course if (1) the student takes a written exam of the three subjects at the beginning of the review course and pass the exam with a grade equivalent to B+ or higher of the corresponding undergraduate course(s), or (2) the student takes the equivalent undergraduate course(s) at UC Merced and passes with B+ or higher. If a student chooses (2) for any subject, the final grade of the review course is based on the remaining subject(s) in the review course, and the student passes the requirement only if the student passes both the review course for the remaining subject(s) and the undergraduate course(s) within the first year. Option (2) is for students who have not taken a subject in undergraduate studies or have a gap in the training. A student must discuss with the instructor of PHYS 202 and the Graduate Program Chair before choosing option (2) and report the grade(s) of the undergraduate course(s) to the Graduate Program Chair and Graduate Coordinator after completion of the course(s). The scores and grades of the review course will not be communicated to others. Students who have not passed the required review course by the end of their first year may be subject to academic disqualification. The student who fails the review course may petition to stay in the Master’s program. The funding of the Master’s program is not guaranteed.

Past preliminary exams:

  • Spring 2022:  Online exam scheduled on  1/29/2022 (Saturday)
    Students are allowed to have a formula sheet (letter size, only one-side not both) for each subject. In the beginning of the exam, students need to show their formula sheet (via camera if the exam is online) to the proctor before working on the problems. Nothing else (textbook, computer files etc) is allowed.   This time we do not have a physical room for the students because all students should have office space by now. If a student plans to take any subject(s), please send an email to Prof. Lin Tian ( to register.

        9:00AM-11:00AM Classical mechanics

        11:30AM-1:30PM Electromagnetism

         2:00PM-4:00PM Quantum mechanics


Fall 2021:  Online exam was scheduled on 8/24/2021 (Tuesday). 

Fall 2020 scheduled on 8/24/2020 (Monday) and was online via zoom. Please see here for instructions!

    A selection of past exams from different years can be found here:

    Fall 2007

    Fall 2008

    Spring 2009

    Fall 2010 Classical Mechanics

    Fall 2010 Quantum Mechanics

    Fall 2010 Electromagnetism

    Spring 2010

    Spring 2012 Classical Mechanics

    Spring 2012 Quantum Mechanics

    Spring 2012 Electromagnetism

    Spring 2013 Quantum mechanics

    Spring 2013 Electromagnetism

    Fall 2013 Quantum Mechanics

    Fall 2013 Electromagnetism

    Fall 2013 Classical Mechanics

    Fall 2014 Classical Mechanics

    Fall 2014 Electromagnetism

    Fall 2014 Quantum Mechanics

    Fall 2015 EM

    Fall 2015 Classical Mechanics

    Fall 2015 Quantum Mechanics

    Spring 2016 EM

    Spring 2016 Quantum mechanics

    Spring 2016 Classical mechanics

    Fall 2016 EM

    Fall 2016 Quantum Mechanics

    Fall 2016 Classical Mechanics

    Spring 2017 EM

    Spring 2017 Quantum Mechanics

    Spring 2017 Classical Mechanics

    Fall 2017 EM

    Fall 2017 Quantum Mechanics

    Fall 2017 Classical Mechanics

    Fall 2018 EM

    Fall 2018 Quantum Mechanics

    Fall 2018 Classical Mechanics

    Fall 2019 Classical Mechanics

    Fall 2019 Quantum Mechanics

    Fall 2019 EM 

    Fall 2020 Classical Mechanics

    Fall 2020 Quantum Mechanics

    Fall 2020 EM

    Spring 2021 Classical Mechanics   

    Spring 2021 Quantum Mechanics

    Spring 2021 EM

    Fall 2021 Classical Mechanics

    Fall 2021 Quantum Mechanics

    Fall 2021 EM

    Spring 2022 Classical Mechanics

    Spring 2022 EM

    Spring 2022 quantum (no exam)