Phase I Examination Information

General Information

Entering students—regardless of whether they have received a graduate degree or completed graduate level coursework—are required to take a series of qualifying examinations, or Phase I exams, on undergraduate material in five specific fields of study: Analytical Chemistry, Biochemistry, Inorganic Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, and Physical Chemistry. Phase I exam results serve a major factor in determining whether students have the ability and background to be declared “candidates for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy,” as well as for placement purposes.

Requirements and Scoring

In order to be considered candidates for the Ph.D. in Chemistry, students must have the breadth and depth of knowledge to take and reach “excusing level” on at least four of the five subject areas. A minimum score (“excusing level”) is set for each test. If a student chooses to skip an exam, that will count as not achieving “excusing level” for that exam.


Examinations may be either standardized ACS multiple-choice tests or Georgetown-constructed tests which may involve essays and mechanistic answers. Students taking Phase I exams are encouraged to contact the faculty member proctoring a particular exam to determine in what format the exam will be given.


Phase I exams are administered three times per year: before fall semester classes commence, throughout the fall semester, and throughout the spring semester. The first round of Phase I exams will be administered as closely to the arrival date of the student as possible. Students matriculating in a fall semester will take the first round of Phase I exams before the start of the fall semester of their matriculation. Students matriculating in a spring semester will take the first round of Phase I exams throughout the spring semester of their matriculation.


Students, who do not meet “excusing level” in more than one Phase I exam in the first round, will have the opportunity to take those exams during a second and, if necessary, a third round of examinations to be administered during the subsequent testing periods. For example, a student, who matriculates in the spring and who does not meet “excusing level” for either Physical Chemistry or Biochemistry, will be given the opportunity to take those exams a second time before fall semester classes commence and, if necessary, a third time during the fall semester.

Each student will have up to—but no more than—three opportunities to reach “excusing level” on each of the five subject examinations.

Failure to reach “excusing level” on some of the Phase I examinations taken during the first round will result in neither removal nor reduction of fellowship or scholarship support. On the other hand, students, who successfully complete these exams, progress faster towards the Ph.D. and are relieved of the responsibility of studying for later examinations.

Meeting with the Phase I Advising Committee

After the exams are graded, each student will have a brief meeting with the Phase I advising committee. The purpose of this conversation is (a) to provide useful feedback as to what sub-areas the student might focus on effectively for the second round of Phase I exams (if necessary) and (b) to advise the student on course selection matters. The student will not learn, at any time, how his/her performance stands in relation to that of other students.

The Espenscheid Fellowship

To demonstrate the importance of these examinations, the Department offers an Espenscheid Fellowship to all students who (a) have not been enrolled previously in a graduate degree program in chemistry and (b) reach “excusing level” on four Phase I exams taken in the first attempt. An Espenscheid Fellowship recipient is not required to teach during the summer after the first year and can afford more time to conducting research.

Suggestions for Phase I Preparation

Phase I exams are based on topics generally covered in undergraduate courses offered at American colleges and universities.

As a means of preparation, you should consider obtaining study guides/manuals for the GRE Chemistry Subject Test. You may find these study guides—from Princeton Review, Research & Education Association, Educational Testing Service, etc.—in a bookstore or through an online vendor. You should note that, while the Chemistry GRE includes sections on Analytical, Inorganic, Organic, and Physical Chemistry, it does not include Biochemistry which is covered in our Phase I examinations. While the multiple-choice, ACS format exams and the GRE Chemistry Subject Test are not same, the Chemistry GRE study guides should prepare you for a multiple-choice format chemistry exam.

Occasionally, a Georgetown written exam is given instead.  The department’s main office (Reiss 240) maintains recent copies of Georgetown-constructed exams which are available upon request.