The Physics Department offers placement exams in the following core courses:
For all courses, except SM, these exams can be taken by incoming students in August, before the start of their first semester at Duke, or in the first week. The SM placement exam can be taken in January.
An incoming student must inform the DGS if he or she wants to take August placement exams by July 15 or the January SM placement exam by November 15. Only the desired exams will be prepared and administered.
The results of the placement exams will be used by the DGS to determine whether a student may place out of a core course. In addition, performance on a placement exam is used by the student and faculty mentor to gauge the student's level of preparation. With this as a guide, the student and faculty mentor can develop a curriculum that best meets the needs of the student.
Although passing a placement exam will enable a student to skip the corresponding course, it is important to realize that taking the course constitutes a very different experience. The combination of lectures and problem sets give the student an in-depth familiarity with the conceptual aspects of the subject, as well as a lot of practice approaching difficult problems and a chance to work with her or his peers. The limitation of the placement exam is that it can only test whether the student possesses a broad understanding of the concepts, and whether he or she can apply these to a few specific problems. Thus, it is likely that, unless he or she has an exceptional undergraduate background in the subject, the student who places out of a core course will need to fill in gaps in specific problem solving techniques or even conceptual issues covered in the course. It is understood that it will be the student's responsibility to do so.