Exams & Thesis

Area Exams | Preliminary Exam | Final Exam / Deposit

Click here to register online for Fall 2024 Area Exams

Tentative schedule for Fall 2024 Area Exams (PDF)

Before a student becomes an official candidate for the PhD degree, the Area Examinations (and Preliminary Examination) must be passed. The first attempt at the Area Examinations must be within three semesters after starting the PhD program, excluding the summer semester. For example: If you begin in the Spring 2020 semester, you would be required to complete the Area Examinations before the end of the Spring 2021 semester.

The Area Examinations exist to provide assurance that all PhD candidates have sufficient knowledge of fundamental principles in selected areas of Mechanical Engineering. All PhD students must take the Area Exams, including those who do not have Bachelor’s and/or Master’s degrees in Engineering.

The student is expected to demonstrate a firm command of fundamental principles in applied mathematics, and at least 2 of the following approved areas of Mechanical Engineering:

  1. Acoustics
  2. Control
  3. Design
  4. Dynamics (see waiver section)
  5. Fluid and Gas Dynamics (see waiver section)
  6. Heat & Mass Transfer (see waiver section)
  7. Solid Mechanics (see waiver section)
  8. Thermodynamics (see waiver section)

The Area Examination topics are approved by the ME faculty with recommendations by the Graduate Committee.  The level of command of these principles should be at the baccalaureate, and in some cases, Master’s level.

Written examinations in the areas listed above, including applied mathematics, will be offered each Fall and Spring semester, beginning the 3rd week of the semester. (Please see the respective Study Guide sections below for what is required for each area). For the first attempt, the student must take all 3 Area Examinations in one semester (Math and exams from 2 other areas, unless a waiver has been completed).  A request by the student for an exception to these requirements must be in writing to the student’s Advisory Committee and should clearly indicate the unusual and/or special circumstances justifying the request. If the student’s Advisory Committee approves, the approved request must be transmitted to the Graduate Office the semester before taking the Area Exams, as the request requires approval by the Graduate Committee in addition to the student’s Advisory Committee.

Registration for Area Exams

Click here to register online for Area Exams.  Complete the electronic registration form, then hit “Submit” to route the form to your Major Professor.  The Major Professor will complete the Performance Rubric section then route the registration form to the ME Graduate Office by the designated due date. Once registered, the student will be expected to check the examination schedule on this website and appear in the room listed for those dedicated written area exams on the day and time scheduled, unless the student has qualified for a waiver for that exam. (Please note:  You do need to be registered for credits in the semester you register to take area exams, so your area exam registration can be processed.)

Area Exam Waivers

To qualify for the Area Exam Waivers, the class completion must be prior to the first attempt at the Area Exams. The courses involved with the waivers, may also be included in the student’s Plan of Study and must be taken at the Purdue, West Lafayette campus.  Students can qualify for more than one waiver.

  • Mathematics Area Exam Waiver—A student who has completed two of either MA 527, MA 528, or ME 581, with a minimum grade of B+, prior to the Math Area Exam will be considered to have successfully completed the requirements of the exam.
  • CENUT Area Exam Waiver—A student who has completed ME 50000 (Advanced Thermodynamics) with a minimum grade of B+, prior to the Thermodynamics Area Exam will be considered to have successfully completed the requirements of the exam.
  • Dynamics Area Exam Waiver—A student who has completed both ME 562, Advanced Dynamics, and ME 563, Mechanical Vibrations, with a minimum grade of B+, prior to the Dynamics Area Exam will be considered to have successfully completed the requirements of the exam.
  • Fluid and Gas Dynamics Area Exam Waiver—A student who has completed ME 50900 (Intermediate Fluid Mechanics) with a minimum grade of B+, prior to the Fluid and Gas Dynamics Area Exam will be considered to have successfully completed the requirements of the exam.
  • Heat Transfer Area Exam Waiver—A student who has completed ME 50500 (Intermediate Heat Transfer) with a minimum grade of B+, prior to the Heat Transfer Area Exam will be considered to have successfully completed the requirements of the exam.
  • Solid Mechanics Area Exam Waiver—A student who has completed the graduate-level course Solid Mechanics I (ME 597 - typically offered fall semesters), Solid Mechanics II (ME 597 – typically offered spring semesters), or Continuum Mechanics (ME 612 – typically offered spring semesters) with a minimum grade of B+, will be considered to have successfully completed the requirements of the exam.

Download Sample Exams!

We've compiled lists of previous Area Exams for you to practice with.  Click here to browse through previous Area Exams (you will need to log in with your career account and password.) You should review these early in the semester prior to the exam.

Study Guides:

Responsibility & Authority

The responsibility and authority for the implementation of the Area Examinations rests with the Mechanical Engineering faculty, however, certain portions are delegated to the ME Graduate Committee and the student’s Advisory Committee.

Grading & Reporting Exam Scores

Area Exam Committee Input

The student will be evaluated on performance in each Area Examination by the respective Area Exam Committee. Each Area Exam Committee Chair will report results for each student to both the Major Professor and Graduate Committee on a pass/fail/ (if offered) conditional-pass basis.

Advisory Committee Input

The Major Professor of the student, in consultation with the Advisory Committee, will provide to the Graduate Committee with a written evaluation of the performance of the student to date, including coursework, various components associated with research potential and progress of the student (interactions with group members, scientific contributions, development of experimental skills, theoretical developments, etc.), and the Major Professor’s intention to retain and financially support (given the availability of resources) the student for further PhD studies in ME. The Advisory Committee has the option to include additional information that is deemed relevant to Graduate Committee’s deliberations.


The Graduate Committee will evaluate the student’s overall performance in all 3 Area Examinations and the evaluation of the Advisory Committee. The results of this evaluation will be one of the following:

1. Pass: The student who has clearly passed the 3 Area Examinations and has a satisfactory input from the Advisory Committee will normally be allowed to continue in the PhD program, leading to the preparation of the PhD proposal for the Preliminary Examination.

2. Fail: A student not passing one (or more) of the Area Examinations on the first attempt may be allowed to retake it (or them) at the next offering of the examination(s) that were failed. When retaking the exam(s), the student may choose to take an exam in a different area, other than applied math; however only one attempt will be allowed in this different area. If the student completed an area exam waiver course during the semester they first took the area exams, and qualified with the appropriate grade, that course could be used as a waiver toward the 2nd attempt to pass the area exams.  Alternatively, the Graduate Committee may advise the student after the first attempt to transfer to the Master’s program.  A student who fails the retake of an exam, even if the second attempt was in a new area, will be dismissed from the graduate program. Also, a student who does not take all three area exams in the first attempt as required, and does not have an approved exemption, will be dismissed from the graduate program. A student who fails to show for an area exam will have failed that attempt.

3. Conditional Pass: A student with lower than acceptable performance in an Area Examination may be required to remedy the deficiencies by taking an appropriate course. The course may be at the graduate level or at the undergraduate level, and not one that has previously been taken. The minimum grade required to be achieved for meeting the conditional pass requirement is a B+, unless otherwise specified in the student's area exam notification letter from the ME Graduate Office.  If those requirements are satisfied, the student passes the exam. Failing to satisfy the requirements means the student fails the exam. A course used to satisfy a conditional pass on an area exam, cannot be used on the plan of study. Not all areas offer conditional pass options when grading.

Once graded, the area exam will be released to the student’s instructor by the respective area (not the Graduate Office), and students can review their performance with their instructor. The student and the Major Professor will be notified of the final decision of the Graduate Committee for Area Examinations (pass/fail/conditional pass) in each area in an overall Results letter from the Graduate Chair, once all their results are received in the Graduate Office. (Note:  If a student has passed all 3 area exams with waivers, an overall Results letter will not be sent to the student/major professor.)  Students not passing an exam are encouraged to discuss their performance with their Major Professor as well as the appropriate area exam chairs.

Students cannot register for their prelim exam until they’ve passed all 3 area exams.

Unsatisfactory Area Exam Results

A student is given only 2 attempts to pass an Area Exam, subject to the process described above (Grading & Reporting Exam Scores). The student who fails an area exam in their first attempt will be allowed a second attempt, and students will need to register for their second attempt in the following semester. A student will be dismissed from the graduate program by the Graduate Committee if any Area Examination is failed twice.


An appeal of a dismissal may be made as a written petition to the ME Graduate Committee by the student, explaining the reasons the student should be allowed to continue in the PhD program. It must include a supporting letter from the student’s Major Professor and Advisory Committee which also outlines the process put in place to assist the student with passing the area exams. If an appeal for a third attempt to pass the area exams is approved, the student will need to re-take any failed area exams, the very next semester area exams are offered (area exams are only offered in spring and fall semesters). If an appeal is granted for a third attempt, and the student still does not pass, the student will be dismissed from the program at the end of that semester; an additional appeal is not an option.

A student in the D-PhD or PhD program who fails to pass all area exams may petition the Graduate Chair to change from the PhD to the Master’s program, if the student doesn’t already have a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering degree. After completing the Master’s degree, the student may apply to the PhD program. If accepted, the student will start over with Area Examinations.

ME Graduate Office
516 Northwestern Ave. (4th floor of Wang Hall)
West Lafayette, IN 47906
(765) 494-5730
Virtual office hours available every Tues/Wed/Thurs