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Carnegie Mellon Department of Chemistry

Guide to Graduate Studies

Ph.D. Requirements

Attainment Examinations

The purpose of the attainment examination requirement is to ensure sufficient fundamental background for graduate course work and breadth for further research. The attainment exams assess incoming students’ knowledge in core areas of chemistry frequently represented in the department’s research and ensure that deficiencies are addressed through appropriate course work and/or a re-examination.


By the end of the third semester, entering graduate students must pass an attainment requirement in each of three areas of chemistry: Organic, Inorganic, and Physical.

Students may meet this requirement by either:

In order to receive credit toward passing an attainment exam, a student must earn at least B (3.0) in a full semester of GPC-approved coursework in that area (typically 12-units). For physical chemistry attainment credit based on performance in approved mini-courses (09-6xx), students must receive at least a B (3.0) in each of the physical chemistry mini-courses. Otherwise, they will need to retake and pass the physical chemistry attainment exam, or they may retake the mini-course with the lower grade or take a different GPC-approved course and earn B's in each of two mini-courses or a total of 12 units. Note that 09-603 Mathematical Analysis for Chemistry is recommended as preparation for physical chemistry graduate courses, but does not count toward the physical chemistry attainment requirement.

Normally, all students will take attainment examinations upon arrival in the department for the purpose of guiding advising on courses. Based on the results of the exam, the choice among the options above is determined by the Graduate Program Committee after consultation with the student and advisor (if one has been selected). Note that if a student does not have sufficient background to enter a graduate course in a given area, he/she will need to take (or audit) undergraduate coursework approved by the Graduate Program Committee, and then either retake and pass the attainment exam in that area or pass appropriate graduate course work by the end of the third semester inresidence. Attainment requirements must be satisfied before a student may complete the research progress report requirement.


Students may retake the attainment exam when it is administered to new students in January and/or the following August. Failure to pass the attainment requirements by the end of the third semester will lead to probation. Failure to meet this requirement by the end of the second year will lead to a delay in completing the research progress report and is grounds for termination from the program. With the agreement of the advisor, the student may petition the GPC in writing to request an extension beyond the third semester to complete the attainment requirement. (See Petitions for Extension)