(last updated on August 25, 2017)
The general CWRU policies on proficiency exams are described in the First Year Registration Guide (see Placement and Proficiency Examinations ). The Department of Physics offers proficiency exams for PHYS 115, 116, 121, 122 & 221. These exams are given twice each year, shortly before classes start in the fall and spring semesters, on a schedule determined by the Office of Undergraduate Studies (not by the Department of Physics). In recent years, the fall exams have been offered on the Thursday and the spring exams on the Saturday before classes begin. The last set of physics proficiency exams was given at 2 – 5 PM on Thursday, August 24, 2017 in Rockefeller 301. This posting will be updated when the Office of Undergraduate Studies determines the date and time for the January exams.
Proficiency exams are NOT given on request at other times! Students are expected to research these scheduling issues BEFORE making travel plans.
It is not normally possible to complete two proficiency exams in a single three hour period, although you are welcome to try. Students who wish to test out of two physics courses will generally have to do this by taking separate exams in August and in January. Students occasionally ask if they are limited to a single attempt to pass a proficiency exam; the answer is no, you can try as many times as you wish, once each semester.
To be certain that an exam is available for you, you must register for a proficiency exam in advance (preferably at least 24 hours in advance ) by contacting the academic representative of the Department of Physics, Prof. G. Chottiner. (If no one requests an exam for a particular course, an exam for that course may not be available. If the number of students who show up for an exam exceeds the number of available exams, those who registered in advance will be given priority.) Email registration is preferable. (firstname.lastname@example.org , 216-368-4024, Rockefeller 104D). Your message should include the following information:
PRE-MED STUDENTS! Dean Scherger, Director of Health Career Advising in the Office of Undergraduate Studies, offers the following advice: “Pre-medical students are advised to take at least one course in physics at the college level for a grade. Medical schools are not uniform on how they view credit by examination when it comes to fulfilling their requirements but, in general, they accept one semester of credit by examination ( e.g. AP or proficiency exam ) in physics as long a second, graded course has been completed at the college level.”
A description of the material covered by each exam and a sample exam for each course are provided below. Please do not ask for answers ( neat, easily-readable answers are not produced for these exams ) or for additional sample exams. The sample exams are not meant as practice exams; they are posted so that students can see the style and level of difficulty of the physics proficiency exams. The point of these proficiency exams is to provide students who believe they know the material an opportunity to demonstrate that they should be excused from the corresponding course. If you need extensive practice or help with the sample exam, then you should be taking the class.
The physics proficiency exams are similar to the final exams given in each course; problems are modeled on those of past course exams and on homework problems from texts used in these courses. To receive proficiency credit, your performance on the exam must be equivalent to or better than a high C grade in the course ( in the neighborhood of 70% ). Proficiency credit is indicated on your transcript by the symbols PR; no letter grade is given and proficiency credit does not count as part of your GPA. There is no penalty, and no permanent university record, if someone does not pass a proficiency exam.
Students are not expected to memorize formulae and constants in most of our introductory physics courses and you do not need to memorize them for the proficiency exams. You are not allowed to use your own formula sheet but each exam will include a formula page; this page will contain the fundamental formulae and physical constants that you should need for the exam. You are expected to remember basic mathematical formulae ( algebra, trig, calculus ) but any complex formulae required to solve a particular problem will be provided. You can view a sample formula sheet at Proficiency Exam Formulae.pdf but note that the actual paper version you receive during the exam may vary slightly from the version posted here. Different texts and instructors may use variations of the formulae that you will be provided, so be certain you understand the format that will be provided with the proficiency exam.
You need to supply your own calculator, pencils and erasers. There are no restrictions on the kind of calculator you use for the exam, but computers, smartphones and other devices with communication capabilities may not be used during the test. A programmable, graphing calculator in which lots of formulae are stored is unlikely to help someone who does not understand the basic physics of a question.
Occasionally a student will ask for advice on whether to take a proficiency exam. The physics department is officially neutral on this subject; the decision is yours and there is no penalty for trying the exam except for the time you spend studying and taking the exam. However you may want to consult your advisor and consider the following factors.
PHYS 115, 116, 121 and 122 each have a laboratory component and it is not possible to test this aspect of your education on a proficiency exam. Labs are a critical component of introductory physics and your performance in the lab counts for 25% of your course grade. Until the summer of 2007, the Department of Physics withheld proficiency credit from students who passed the exam until those students could independently establish their laboratory skills. This could be done via an interview with the Laboratory Director, by taking the stand-alone PHYS 113A or PHYS 113B lab, or by successfully completing the second course in a physics sequence, with its associated laboratory.
In the summer of 2007, the department decided to relax these requirements and to immediately issue proficiency credit for students who pass the PHYS 115 and 121 proficiency exams, as long as you commit to taking the next course in the sequence, either PHYS 116 or PHYS 122, since taking the second course ensures that you have a suitable laboratory experience. If you are nervous about taking the PHYS 116 or PHYS 122 labs without having taken a mechanics lab at CWRU, you should consult with the Laboratory Director of the Department of Physics, Dr. D. Driscoll ( Rockefeller 222A, x-8844, email@example.com ) about taking PHYS 113A.
Students who pass the PHYS 116 or PHYS 122 proficiency exam ( plus those who pass the PHYS 115 or PHYS 121 exam but who will not take another physics course with a lab at CWRU ) have to establish their Laboratory Competence before they receive proficiency credit. This can be done via either of two methods.
The General Bulletin description of each course is copied below, along with a more detailed listing of topics which might be tested on a proficiency exam. A sample exam for each course is available at the link provided for each course.
For your convenience, the chapters in Halliday, Resnick and Walker, 6th edition, that would be covered by the proficiency exams for PHYS 115, 116, 121 and 122 are also given below. This edition is obsolete but it should be as easy to find as any equivalent physics text. Physics textbook publishers provide new editions every couple of years, and our various course instructors can choose from many different texts each year. Furthermore, PHYS 115/116 no longer uses a calculus-based text such as Halliday, Resnick and Walker. So, consider the following listing as a rough guide to the topics that may be tested on each exam.
First part of a two-semester sequence directed primarily towards students working towards a B.A. in science, with an emphasis on the life sciences. While the formal calculus prerequisite for this sequence was dropped in 2003, Case students taking PHYS 115/116 normally have taken calculus and it is possible that some proficiency exam problems will require knowledge of basic calculus. Kinematics; Newton’s laws of motion; rotational motion; conservation laws; gravitation; simple harmonic motion; mechanical waves; fluids; ideal gas law; heat and the first and second laws of thermodynamics. This course has a laboratory component. Prereq: MATH121, MATH123 or MATH125.
Electrostatics, Coulomb’s law, Gauss’s law; capacitance and resistance; DC circuits; magnetic fields; electromagnetic induction; RC and RL circuits; light; geometrical optics; interference and diffraction; special relativity. Introduction to quantum mechanics; elements of atomic, nuclear and particle physics. This course has a laboratory component. Prereq: PHYS115.
Particle dynamics. Newton’s laws of motion, energy and momentum conservation, rotational motion, and angular momentum conservation.. This course has a laboratory component. Prereq: MATH121, MATH123, MATH125 or one year of high school calculus.
Electricity and magnetism emphasizing the basic electromagnetic laws of Gauss, Ampere, and Faraday. Maxwell’s equations and electromagnetic waves, interference, and diffraction. This course has a laboratory component Prereq: PHYS121 or PHYS123. Coreq: MATH122, MATH124 or MATH126.
The actual PHYS 221 proficiency exam will likely be longer and cover a broader range of topics in more depth than the sample exam provided above. The content of our PHYS 221 course varies a lot depending on who is teaching the course. For example, some instructors focus on quantum mechanics at the expense of astrophysics and some include more details on statistical physics. Students who take the proficiency exam may be tested on anything included in a stand-alone Modern Physics text like Krane (see below) or Harris. The modern physics section in a combined classical mechanics/ E&M/modern physics text like Serway & Jewitt or Halliday, Resnick & Walker is not generally comparable to our PHYS 221.
The general bulletin description of our course reads: Concepts in special relativity, statistical mechanics and quantum mechanics and their impacts on modern technology. Applications to atomic structure, and selected topics in nuclear, condensed matter physics, particle physics, and cosmology.” A more detailed list of topics follows, along with the chapters in which they may be found in a typical text, Modern Physics by Kenneth Krane, Wiley, ISBN: 0-471-82872-6, 1996.
The text by Randy Harris has also been used at CWRU in recent years. Other, similar modern physics texts include those by Bernstein, Fishbane, & Gasiorowicz, and Paul A. Tipler & Ralph A. Llewellyn, and John R. Taylor and Chris D. Zafiratos.
Contact the academic representative of the Department of Physics (Prof. G. Chottiner, firstname.lastname@example.org ) for more information on proficiency exams.