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2/19/2008 New!

Check out the newly revised
Biophysics Part III Study Guide
contributed by Brian Ross!

MIT Physics REFS General Exam Preparation Site

A common historical complaint in Course 8, and one loudly voiced in the May 2006 general exam survey, has been that the department gives students too little guidance on what to expect from the general exams -- and almost none on how to prepare for them. For years, students have asked for study guides, lists of topics, and sample exams with clear solutions, but little help has been forthcoming. Now, at long last, your MIT Physics REFS are spearheading an effort to aggregate this information. But we need your help!

In addition to collecting here some useful exam-prep documents, in the tables below we have compiled exams and solution sets for as many back years as we can find. As you can see, not all exams have solution sets, and some of the posted solutions are messy or incomplete. If, in your preparation for the general exams, you work out a solution to a problem, please consider writing it up and sending us a copy. In addition to the warm, fuzzy sensation of knowing you helped out your fellow exam-takers, and the fame and prestige of having your insightful solution admired by future generations of Course 8 students, the really important thing is that this will earn you a free dinner. Every neatly typeset and correct solution to a complete Part II problem, or set of solutions to a complete section (four problems) of a Part I exam, will be gratefully rewarded with a $10 gift certificate redeemable at any restaurant in the MIT student center. (This includes Anna's Taqueria, Alpine Grill, LaVerde's, any of the restaurants upstairs in the Food Court, and even the incoming Dunkin Donuts!) To qualify for the gift certificate, the existing solution to the problem in the tables below must be either (1) missing, (2) handwritten, or (3) demonstrably incorrect (with the demonstrating to be done by you).

Only submissions typeset in LaTeX will be accepted; you must send us both the PDF and LaTeX source versions of your solution. Send your submissions to

Table Of Contents

  1. Part I Study Guide Podcasts
  2. MIT Physics GSC General Exam Report
  3. Study Guide for Part I
  4. List of Topics for Part I
  5. Sample Exams: Part I
  6. Sample Exams: Part II
  7. Student-Contributed Solutions to Sample Exams
  8. 12/17/2007 NEW! Student-Contributed Study Guides for the Part III General Exams

Part I Study Guide Podcasts

Continuing MIT's longstanding tradition of setting the standard for innovative technology-enabled physics education, the MIT Physics REFS Graduate General Exam Prep Site is proud to host a series of weekly podcasts to help you study for the Part I exam.

Developed by Prof. Peter Fisher with professional audio-engineering assistance from Sheela Marston-Hulsoor, these podcasts will help you structure your study time in the weeks leading up to the exam. In addition to addressing the core areas of physics covered by the exam, the podcasts discuss effective studying techniques, problem-solving skills, and exam-taking strategies. Each installment also includes at least one sample problem akin to those found on Part I.

Professor Fisher is also accepting questions from the studying audience. All questions will remain anonymous, but there are some guidelines, as discussed in the the first installment below. Send your questions to

Main Podcast Page:

Fisher On Physics

Podcasts By Installment:

Week 1 - Week 19

Professor Fisher has provided a tentative schedule of titles for his podcasts. Check in every Monday at 5pm for a new podcast!

MIT Physics GSC General Exam Report

In the spring of 2006, the MIT Physics GSC surveyed the Course 8 graduate student population on a series of topics relating to the Graduate General Exams. The results are now in, and have been painstakingly compiled into a full report by the members of the PGSC. The PGSC has also prepared a report comparing MIT's general exams to those administered by other graduate physics programs in the US, and a collection of sample problems from exams at other universities.

Many thanks to the MIT Physics GSC for this important service to the Course 8 graduate community!

File PDF
Survey Report PDF
Comparison Report PDF
Test Examples PDF

Study Guide for Part I

Here's the official Part I study guide, prepared by Prof. Peter Fisher.


List of Topics for Part I

Here's a useful checklist of topics to study for Part I, compiled by Bonna Newman and Prof. Tom Greytak.


Part I Exams and Solutions

Date Exam Solution Sets
Fall 2012 P1Fall12.pdf P1Fall12Sol.pdf
Spring 2012 P1Spring12.pdf P1Spring12Sol.pdf
Fall 2002 P1Fall02.pdf P1Fall02Sol.pdf
Spring 2002 P1Spring02.pdf P1Spring02Sol.pdf
Fall 2001 P1Fall01.pdf P1Fall01Sol.pdf
Spring 2001 P1Spring01Sol.pdf
Fall 2000 P1Fall00.pdf P1Fall00Sol.pdf
Spring 2000 P1Spring00.pdf P1Spring00Sol.pdf
Fall 1999 P1Fall99.pdf P1Fall99Sol.pdf
Spring 1999 P1Spring99.pdf P1Spring99Sol.pdf
Fall 1998 P1Fall98.pdf P1Fall98Sol.pdf
Spring 1998 P1Spring98.pdf P1Spring98Sol.pdf
Fall 1996 P1Fall96.pdf P1Fall96Sol.pdf
Spring 1996 P1Spring96.pdf P1Spring96Sol.pdf
Fall 1995 P1Fall95Sol.pdf
Spring 1995 P1Spring95Sol.pdf

Part II Exams and Solutions

Date Exam Solution Sets
Fall 2012 P2Fall12.pdf P2Fall12Sol.pdf
Spring 2012 P2Spring12.pdf P2Spring12Sol.pdf
Fall 2002 P2Fall02.pdf P2Fall02Sol.pdf
Spring 2002 P2Spring02.pdf P2Spring02Sol.pdf
Fall 2001 P2Fall01.pdf P2Fall01Sol.pdf
Spring 2001 P2Spring01.pdf P2Spring01Sol.pdf
Fall 2000 P2Fall00.pdf P2Fall00Sol.pdf
Spring 2000 P2Spring00.pdf
Fall 1999 P2Fall99.pdf P2Fall99Sol.pdf
Spring 1999 P2Spring99.pdf P2Spring99Sol.pdf
Fall 1998 P2Fall98.pdf
Spring 1998 P2Spring98.pdf P2Spring98Sol.pdf
Fall 1997 P2Fall97.pdf P2Fall97Sol.pdf

Student-Contributed Solutions to Sample Exams

Problems Solved Contributor
Part II, Fall 1998, Quantum Mechanics 1 & 2 Leo Stein
Part II, Fall 2002, All Problems Istvan Cziegler
Part II, Fall 1998, Mechanics 2 Vijay Kumar Sreenivasa Gopalan
Part II, Fall 1998, E&M 1 Eric Fitzgerald
Part II, Fall 1998, Mechanics 1 Koushik Balasubramanian

Student-Contributed Study Guides for Part III General Exams

Subfield Contributor Date Contributed
Biophysics Brian Ross February 19, 2008
Part III Wiki PGSC Ongoing

MIT Physics REFS Graduate General Exam Prep Site, by Homer Reid
Last Modified: August 17, 2006