ORAL EXAM GUIDELINES (2021S)
The oral exam will be 25 minutes long and carried out via Zoom. There will normally be three examiners, all of whom are either professors or demonstrators in the course, and at least one will be a professor. We will ask you specific questions about two of the three experiments you have done. You choose the first experiment to discuss; we choose the second. You will not be told beforehand which experiment we will choose, so you must be prepared to talk about all three of them. You may not ask not to talk about a certain experiment, but let the examiners know if there were unusual problems out of your control, e.g. you had to switch experiments suddenly because the apparatus broke.
If there are technical difficulties, don't panic. We can reschedule to a later time.
Your exam will normally be rescheduled if you are more than 5 minutes late.
If at any point during the exam you feel you need a short pause, don't hesitate to ask. The examiners all understand that these exams can be stressful. You may want to have some water/tea/coffee/… handy in case your mouth gets dry.
Don't be afraid to answer “I don't know” to some questions, and don't worry if you struggle with some questions. Oral exams are very dynamic with examiners adjusting their questions to explore what you know; even the very best student is likely to be asked one or more questions that they can't answer.
Have Your Notebooks Available
Don’t forget to have your notebooks available; you may refer to them, and you may want to hold them up to the camera at times to show us something, e.g. a data plot. In preparation for the exam, you may wish to go through your notebooks and add certain notes or flags to help you quickly find the most important details.
If you have a pdf of your notebook available and open, we will allow screen sharing to view the notebook, but don't depend on that. Have your paper notebook at hand as well.
Have Something to Write-on
At in-person Oral Exams, students are often asked to use the blackboard. For this year's remote Oral exams, we must depend more on your verbal answers and descriptions, but you should have a pad of paper and a pen/pencil that can draw a thick dark line in case the examiners ask you to sketch something that you can hold up to the camera. If you happen to be in front of a blackboard/whiteboard, or a suitable app on your computer that you can screen share, you can use that, but we only expect you to have the pad and dark pen.
Discussion and Questions
Discussion during the oral exam is wide ranging, and may include questions about basic physics, equipment, methods, analysis, results and uncertainties. We do not ask for deep understanding of theory, but you should be familiar with the basic physics, e.g. as is often discussed in Introduction or Theory sections of the experiment write-ups.
Here are some examples of what you might be asked (but far from an exclusive list):
- The first question on an experiment is often something like:
- - What was the point of the experiment? or
- - What is XXX? (Where “XXX” is in the name of the experiment, e.g. Compton Scattering, or NMR or …
- Can you sketch and describe the relevant apparatus?
- - Because it is harder to sketch via Zoom, it will be easier if you can show us an existing sketch/photo in your notebook.
- What does this instrument, e.g. a lock-in amplifier, do?
- How was the measurement done?
- Can you explain this table or graph?
- - It is best to have some sample table/plots available in your notebook to show.
- - To keep things simple and on track, you will normally be able to share your screen, so you need to have anything you may want to show already in your notebook or printed out.
- What number or numbers did you actually measure?
- What were the uncertainties in your final measurements, and where did these uncertainties come from?
- Are your data/results consistent with your physics model?
- The last question on an experiment may be something like:
- - What was the greatest challenge in doing this experiment? or
- - What did you learn from this experiment?
Keep in mind that it is possible that none of the examiners will be an expert on a particular experiment under discussion. Your explanations should be clear and thorough enough so that a non-expert with a general physics background can understand what you are talking about.
Stay on time
Timing during the exam is critical and we must stay on schedule. Please do not be offended if we interrupt during the exam. We stick to the schedule, so we may sometimes seem abrupt.
When the exam is over, you will be asked to leave the meeting so that the examiners may discuss your performance. Marks are first determined independently by each examiner; your final mark is calculated as the average of the three individual marks. When all the oral exams are complete, the course coordinator checks all the marks to ensure that marking is consistent for all the different panels of examiners.