ACO students are strongly encouraged to pass the written Comprehensive Examination by the end of their third academic semester in residence (that is, not counting the summer semester), and must pass it before the end of their fourth academic semester. The examination consists of seven problems covering the following topics:
- Computability and Algorithms
- Design and Analysis of Algorithms
- Theory of Linear Inequalities
- Advanced Combinatorial Optimization
- Graph Theory
- Algebra (Students in CoC or ISyE may substitute Advanced Linear Algebra)
- Probabilistic Methods in Combinatorics
Based on the results of this test as well as other measures of the student's performance (including the student's research record, if applicable), the Coordinating Committee may pass the candidate, fail the candidate with a recommendation that the test be re-administered in part or in whole after allowing at most one year for remediation of the student's deficiencies, or fail the student unconditionally.
As a general guideline, to pass the examination a student is expected to completely solve at least four of the seven problems, and make a substantial progress toward a fifth. In borderline cases the committee takes into account the candidate's progress in research. Thus early involvement in research may help in passing the examination.
Upon passing the examination, students will be advised that they will be admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. upon satisfactory completion of all requirements and filing a statement naming the dissertation advisor and research topic.
The examination syllabi define the scope of the examination regardless of what was covered in the corresponding course. Past examinations are available for download. More information is available for currently enrolled ACO students.