Guidelines for Cumulative Exams


An open Chemistry Notebook


Doctoral students in the Chemistry Department must take a cumulative exam starting at the beginning of the third semester in the program, although they may begin earlier if desired. Students choose one of the subdisciplines for their exam: analytical, organic, inorganic or physical (though they may elect, in consultation with their adviser, to take exams in more than one of the four subdisciplines). Each subdiscipline has its own testing guidelines.

Examination points are assigned according to three categories:

  • Pass — two points
  • Low pass — one point
  • Fail — zero

The student must accumulate a total of 10 points in seven examinations or 12 points in 10 examinations in order to satisfy the requirement. Students are disqualified from the PhD program if they accumulate less than 12 points after 10 exams.

Format: Closed book; three hours

Topics Covered

  • Optical spectroscopy
  • Mass spectroscopy
  • Separation methods
  • Surface analysis
  • Electrochemistry
  • Electronics

Part 1: Recent Literature

  • A-Page articles in Analytical Chemistry in the prior six (6) months
  • Recent papers (published in the prior twelve (12) months) related to Major Topics in major analytical chemistry journals

Part 2: Basic Texts on Major Topics

It is assumed that students are familiar with the contents of basic undergraduate/graduate texts for courses offered in this Department in analytical chemistry/instrumentation.

  • Text for CHEM 2122 (D.C. Harris, Quantitative Chemical Analysis, published by Freeman, New York, NY, 4th ed., 1995, 812 pages)
  • Text for CHEM 4122 (D.A. Skoog and J.J. Leary, Principles of Instrumental Analysis, published by Saunders, 4th ed., 1995, 700 pages)
  • Text for CHEM 4113 (A.M. Halpern and G.C. McBane, Experimental Physical Chemistry: A Laboratory Textbook, published by W.H. Freeman, 3rd ed., 2006, 608 pages)
  • Text for CHEM 6221 (J.D. Ingle and S. R. Crouch, Spectrochemical Analysis, published by Prentice Hall, Englewood, N.J., 1988, 589 pages)
  • Text for CHEM 6222 (C.M.A. Brett and A.M.O. Brett, Electrochemistry: Principles, Methods, and Applications, published by Oxford University Press, 1993, 464 pages)
  • Inductively Coupled Plasmas in Analytical Atomic Spectrometry, A. Montaser and D.W. Golightly, 2nd ed., 1992 VCH, 2027 pages

Problem-solving skills will be regularly tested by selected problems in the outlined areas.

Part 1: Evaluation of Core Knowledge

The student should have a good working knowledge of advanced inorganic chemistry at the level of Chemistry 235/236. In addition, a knowledge of subject areas not covered in depth in these courses (e.g., periodicity) is also expected. For example, students should be able to answer questions covered in the exercises of these texts:

  • Inorganic Chemistry, Huheey, Keiter and Keiter

  • Inorganic Chemistry, Shriver, Atkins and Langford

Part 2: Evaluation of Inorganic Literature Through a Current Article

The student should be able to read and understand an article or communication from the recent inorganic literature and determine the following:

  • Why the work was performed

  • Experimental methods used in the investigation

  • Analysis of the results and conclusions

Articles will be extracted from the following journals and will have been in print for no longer than six months: Journal of the American Chemical Society, Inorganic Chemistry, Organometallics and The Chemistry of Materials.

Format: Closed book, two hours

Part 1: Evaluation of Core Knowledge

The student should have a deep knowledge of and ability to recall from memory the basics covered in standard first-course texts like Solomons, McMurry or Wade. Student should also demonstrate a more sophisticated and detailed understanding of material at the level of advanced texts like March and/or Carey & Sundberg as well as Silverstein, et. al.

Part 2: Evaluation of Organic Literature Through a Current Article

The student should be able to read an article from the organic and related literature critically and determine the following:

  • Purpose or intent of the investigation the methods used to study the questions
  • Results obtained
  • Analysis of the results
  • Conclusions drawn
  • Validity of the results, ascertained by reading through the experimental section

​​​​​Articles will be drawn from the recent literature (six to eight months) found in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the Journal of Organic Chemistry and Tetrahedron.

Each examination will pose questions from at least two of these four general areas:

  • Structure determination
  • Reaction mechanisms
  • Synthesis
  • Fundamental store of knowledge

Format: Closed book (an hour to an hour and a half) or open book (four to six hours)

Assessment Areas

  • Basic knowledge of physical chemistry
  • Creative problem-solving abilities in topical areas
  • Ability to critically evaluate specific papers found in the literature
  • Competence with error analysis, math tools, physical chemistry tools, computer programming and/or literature searching

Major Topics to Be Covered

  • Thermodynamics and statistical thermodynamics
  • Kinetics and dynamics
  • Spectroscopy
  • Quantum mechanics
  • Tools: error analysis, computer programming, literature searching and basic math skills


  • Students sitting their 7–10 exams should take exams covering all areas.
  • A record will be kept of the topic and type of exam taken by each student.
  • A schedule of all students and exams should be developed in October for the year.