WPE I Exam Regulations

Doctoral students are required to pass the Written Preliminary Examination, which consists of two parts:

  1. The WPE I is the exam testing basic proficiency in core areas of computer science.
  2. The WPE II is the special area exam testing the candidate’s analytical and presentational abilities, and it is taken in the semester following the student’s passing of the WPE I.

WPE I Policy and Procedures

The purpose of the WPE-I is to ensure that students pursuing the Ph.D. degree have a graduate level of competence in the fundamentals of computer science. We call this level of competence a doctoral foundation. The doctoral foundation is defined by the syllabi in the following eight graduate courses:

  • CIS 501 – Architecture
  • CIS 505 – Software systems
  • CIS 502 – Analysis of Algorithms
  • CIS 511 – Theory of Computation
  • CIS 500 – Software Foundations
  • CIS 520 – Machine Learning (formerly Intro to Artificial Intelligence)
  • CIS 548 – Operating Systems
  • CIS 555 – Internet and Web Systems

A student passes the WPE I by passing four of the eight WPE I exams. Two exams must be passed in the first year; four must be passed by the end of the second year. The four exams must include at least one each from the following two buckets: Foundations (500, 502, 511, 520), and Systems (501, 505, 548, 555).

WPE I Evaluation Procedure

The passing grade for a WPE I course will be determined by the course instructor based on the coursework (homeworks, projects, exams, etc) during the entire semester. The weights assigned to different components will be the same as the ones used for determining the letter grades of all the students. The exact cut-off for passing WPE I score will be determined by the instructor, but a suggested guideline is the cut-off score between the grades of B+ and B. The instructor should review the scores and cut-off with the Graduate Group Chair before announcing the results. A student should declare in advance that she/he intends to take the course for WPE I. For such students, when the coursework is graded by teaching assistants, the instructor should review the scores. When a group project contributes to the cumulative score, the instructor should take extra precaution to ensure individual evaluations (for example, based on meeting with students for project presentations, or peer feedback).

Foundations courses (CIS 500, 502, 511, and 520) also offer an alternative option to pass WPE I exam based solely on the performance in the final exam (exception: to accommodate current students, CIS 501 and 505 will offer this option during the academic year 2019-20). The exact set of topics covered by the final exam will be announced at the beginning of the course to allow students to prepare for the exam. In this option, students submit the WPE I exams anonymously. The identity of the students will not be known to the faculty until after decisions are made about the pass-fail cut-off. In this case also, the instructor should review the scores and cut-off with the Graduate Group Chair before announcing the results.

When both coursework-based and final-exam-only options are available, a student can choose between the two. It is acceptable to switch between the two options in the middle of the semester. In both options, the courses taught during the summer session cannot be used for WPE I.

Graduate Program:

Your CIS Contacts:

Mike Felker – CIS Graduate Admissions
Graduate Coordinator for on-campus Master in Computer and Information Technology and Master of Science in Engineering programs
Office: 158 Levine
Phone: 215-898-9672
Email: mfelker@cis.upenn.edu

Britton Carnevali
Graduate Coordinator for PhD program
Office: 310 Levine
Phone: 215-898-5515
Email: brittonc@cis.upenn.edu

Joy McManus
Graduate Coordinator for ROBO
Office: 459 Levine
Phone: 215-573-4907
Email: joymc@seas.upenn.edu

Liz Wai-Ping Ng
Associate Director for Embedded Systems MSE program
Office: 313 Levine
Phone: 215-898-8543
Email: wng@cis.upenn.edu