Astrophysics Assessment

Astrophysics Assessment


First year students will be given an oral assessment of their background undergraduate-level astronomy knowledge.  This assessment (sometimes referred to as the “Shu exam” for historical reasons) will be proctored by three faculty including the DGS and lasts approximately 45 minutes.  The assessment will be conducted in the Fall (usually mid-October).


The assessment is centered around a list of 100 questions that the students will have access to well in advance of the exam.  A random subset of these questions forms the basis of the assessment, but follow-up questions and some back-and-forth should be expected.  The examiners are looking to see how deeply the student understands the material and how it connects to other concepts.  In short, rote memorization of answers to the 100 questions is not necessarily sufficient for a passing grade.


After the conclusion of the assessment the DGS will notify the student of the outcome by email and may provide specific recommendations of courses to take.  If a student does not pass the assessment they will be required to retake the assessment the following year.  A strong understanding of undergraduate astrophysical knowledge is required for success in our graduate-level courses and research. All students are required to successfully demonstrate this understanding through this assessment before proceeding with their dissertation research.


It is highly recommended that students study for this assessment.  Informal group learning activities are strongly encouraged (for example, group study sessions, or practicing with a graduate student who has previously taken the assessment).  Example textbooks that students may wish to consult in preparing for the assessment include The Essential Cosmic Perspective” (Bennett, Donahue, Schneider, Voit), “Astrophysics in a Nutshell” (Maoz), and “An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics” (Carroll & Ostlie).


Students who have not taken any undergraduate astronomy courses can request to delay their oral assessment by one year.