Students should choose to take the CS oral exam in the area closest to their major field of study in the Ph.D. program. If there is any question about the appropriateness of the choice, you should consult your advisor. Exams are given in these research areas.

Structure and Syllabus

The research area prelim is a 50-minute oral exam given by 2 faculty members. In each area, the faculty team is responsible for designing, administering, and documenting the exam. The syllabus for each exam consists of a topic outline and recommended readings keyed to the test subjects. These syllabi are available on the bottom of the EE and CS Prelim Exam Preparation page. Other resources that may help prepare you for the exam are practice sessions organized by the graduate students’ association and other students who have formerly taken the exam.

Scheduling and Sign-up

The oral exams are offered once per semester, sometime during the first few weeks of classes. All students are expected to take the exam no later than their third semester. If a repeat exam is necessary, it must be done at the next prelim offering. If you think you are exceptionally well prepared, you may petition to take the exam a semester early with the approval of your advisor. If you wish to delay taking the exam, you must submit a petition prior to the sign-up for the scheduled offering of the exam. The petition must explain the circumstances behind your desire to delay and be supported by your advisor. Students sign up for the exam late in the preceding semester. The CS Staff Graduate Advisor will send an email announcing the sign-up dates by e-mail. Applications are submitted on-line via MY EECS INFO. If you do not meet the 3.5 minimum GPA requirements, you will be notified, and the petition procedure must be used. After the deadline, all applications will be reviewed and the examiners will be organized. Another email will inform you of your faculty examiners and other grads who have signed up for the exam. Withdrawing from the exam once you have signed up requires you to submit a petition, at least 2 weeks before the exam, approved by your advisor and the prelim committee chair, explaining the extenuating circumstances (e.g. medical or family emergencies). Please be aware that research obligations, dissolution of study groups, employment off campus, etc., are not legitimate reasons for withdrawing. If you sign up and then drop out of the exam within 2 weeks of the exam date, you will be considered to have failed that exam. If you sign up for a time slot and do not show for the exam, you will also automatically fail and be required to retake the exam the following semester.


The faculty members administer the exam, grade student performance and sometimes inform the students of their grades (sometimes they will have the CS Graduate Advisor contact you with your results). The minimum passing score is 6.0 on a scale of 10. A pass is meant to indicate that the student would be welcome to do Ph.D. research with the examiners or their colleagues in the field of specialization.Students who fail their exam after the second attempt, or who fail to pass all the requirements within the required time period, or who request an exception, are to petition the CS Prelim Exam Committee. The Committee considers the student’s entire record, including exam scores and any letters of support, particularly from the student’s Research Advisor. Any letters of support should be submitted to the Staff Graduate Advisor to present to the Committee for review and consideration. It is therefore extremely important that students involve themselves in research under some faculty member at the earliest possible opportunity, preferably by their second semester. The Committee also considers compelling circumstances such as illness or, in the case of students switching to CS, those with very weak prerequisite backgrounds. The committee exercises wide discretion: it may decide that no action is necessary (if there are one or more semesters left in which to complete the requirements), that the student be allowed more time to complete the requirements, certain requirements be waived, certain remedial action be taken, or that the student be advised to leave the program. When students leave UC Berkeley and are subsequently readmitted to the Ph.D. program, the Prelim Committee on an individual basis determines the time by which they should complete the Prelims. Students who withdraw to avoid the Preliminary Exam should be aware that they might not be readmitted to the Ph.D. program.

Preliminary Breadth Courses

Students must complete courses from three of these areas, passing each with at least a B+.

The courses must include at least one from the group of three above the line and at least one from the group of three below the line. CS260B, CS263, and EE219C cannot be used for this constraint, though they can be used as providing 1 of the 3 areas. (Students who took the old CS260 may use it as equivalent to the current CS260B.) Students must complete the requirement by the end of their 6th semester. CS breadth courses can count towards a major or minor, but classes in different areas cannot be used together for the major or in the same minor.