PhD Degree - COMPS I

For students who have been continuously enrolled as full time students and started the program in a fall semester, the exam should be taken just prior to the start of the second year in August.  For students who started the program in a spring semester, the exam should be taken just prior to the start of the third semester in August.  Students may opt to take the exam just prior to starting the first year in August, so long as they recognize that this counts towards their two attempts to pass.

  • Comps I is a proctored written exam (closed book). The time allocated for the Exam is 6 hours (9AM-noon and 1PM-4PM with a one hour lunch break). Typically the exam is offered on the Friday before classes start in the fall semester.
  • Calculators and one single-sided page (8.5" x 11"or smaller with a 1" margin) of notes for each of the 7 areas referenced below (7 pages total, no more than 1 page for each area) are allowed.  Each page may contain text, graphs, and/or equations deemed relevant to the main ideas and techniques presented in the courses.  Font size should be equivalent to 10 point or larger, or, if the notes are hand written they should be easily readable without magnification.  Multiple colors may be used.  The sheets will be checked at the exam. Books, and lap-top type computers are not permitted.
  • Each candidate must answer 4 out of 7 questions based on the following ATOC courses. Students must answer at least one question from either ATOC 5050: Atmospheric Thermodynamics and Dynamics or ATOC 5060: Dynamics of the Atmosphere and Oceans

ATOC 5050: Atmospheric Thermodynamics and Dynamics
ATOC 5051: Introduction to Physical Oceanography
ATOC 5060: Dynamics of the Atmosphere and Oceans
ATOC 5151: Atmospheric Chemistry
ATOC 5200: Biogeochemical Oceanography
ATOC 5235: Intro to Atmospheric Radiative Transfer and Remote Sensing
ATOC 5600: Physics and Chemistry of Clouds and Aerosols

  • Partial credit is given.
  • Candidates who fail the exam must retake the exam the following year. Only one retake is allowed. The ATOC faculty may judge that a candidate has demonstrated mastery of individual subjects while failing the exam as a whole. In that case, a candidate must retake the exam, but they shall not answer questions for subjects in which they have already demonstrated mastery. On the retake, these candidates must select questions from subjects they either did not answer on the first attempt, or in which they did not demonstrate mastery. On the retake, a candidate must answer the number of questions required so that the number of questions on which the candidate demonstrated mastery on the first attempt plus the number they answered on the retake is equal to 4. The time for the exam will be pro-rated based on the number of questions to be answered.

To prepare for the exam, students should take at least 4 of the ATOC core courses (or transfer in the equivalent).  Copies of questions and solutions from previous exams can be obtained from the Graduate Program Assistant.

Every effort is made to insure fairness in formulating and grading the questions. The questions are collectively considered by an Examination Committee, which includes several students that are Ph.D. candidates.  Each student taking the exam is assigned a letter designation, so that the papers are anonymous to the faculty grading the question. Each question is graded separately by 2 faculty members - the faculty member that wrote the exam question and an additional faculty member that has expertise in the subject area.  The decision as to whether a student passes the Exam is made by the entire ATOC faculty. While grades vary from year to year and from question to question based upon difficulty of the questions, a total score of 70% or higher is typically a passing score.  Students are informed of the outcome of the Exam within 3 weeks of the Exam.