The Geosciences Departmental Exam consists of a written portion in the Spring Quarter of the 1st year and, if student passes this, an oral presentation of research results in September, before the start of the Fall Quarter. The written portion of the exam consists of four questions, three posed by the exam committee and one posed by the first year advisor. These questions are of a general nature that are tailored to the student's first year classes and involve research of the relevant literature, as well as original analysis and synthesis of the literature. The exam questions are handed out in the middle of Spring Quarter and the students are asked to answer one question per week. The exam committee meets with each student near the end of the Spring quarter or just after exam week to review the quality of the student's writing, analysis, and synthesis. Students can be passed, passed conditionally, or failed.

The oral part of the exam consists of a 30 to 45 minute presentation by the student of research that they have conducted during the first year and summer. This research topic is typically discussed between the committee and the student several times during the first academic year and at the conclusion of the written exam. Students are expected to present a polished talk, discuss the background to their study, why the study is important, and present and analyze their data. The oral exam is judged partly upon the quality of the presentation and the student's analysis of their results. Following the student presentation of the results of the project, the committee asks questions related to the study.