M.S. in Physical Sciences
Earth Science Concentration


The earth science qualifying examination should be taken prior to completion of 12 credit hours of graduate course work. This normally means the exam is taken during the student's first year of graduate study. The exam may be taken later, if the student needs additional time to complete probationary requirements.

The exam consists of four sections, of which the student may select three to take. The exam is designed to test general understanding of the subject matter at the undergraduate level. The exam consists of various objective-style questions including true-false, multiple choice, short answer, and diagram interpretation. At the first time of examination, the student is required to take all three selected portions. One hour is allowed to take each, with a short break given between parts.

Each part of the exam includes 60 points, for which a score of 40 or above is passing. If the student does not pass all three selected parts, the student is required to repeat only the failed portion(s). A majority of students pass all three parts on the first round, and it is rare for students not to pass the second round.

Qualifying Examination Parts

  1. General earth science: physical geology, rocks and minerals, geologic time, paleontology, tectonics, earth history.

  2. Mineralogy and petrology: crystallography, mineral classification and chemistry; igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks; environments of rock formation.

  3. Tectonics: structure of the Earth, crustal deformation and evolution, volcanoes and earthquakes, mountain systems, plate tectonics.

  4. Physical geography: meteorology and climatology, soils, hydrology, basic cartography, geographic information systems, remote sensing.

Return to Earth Science graduate degree.
Last update April 2011.