Exemption Exams

We're strong believers in the value of our core curriculum. However, we recognize that many of our students have considerable background in certain areas of our academic program, and we wish to grant them the flexibility to take additional electives in place of fixed core courses whose content they have already mastered. Such mastery is determined by passing an exemption exam, which is comparable to a final exam in a given subject.

We have created the following FAQs to help you navigate the exemption process. If you have questions that are not addressed here, please e-mail exemptions@gsb.columbia.edu.

We encourage students with any prior experience or coursework in any of the core courses to attempt the exam.  If you pass the exam, you can still decide to enroll in the course (by emailing osa@gsb.columbia.edu) or audit the course by reaching out to the instructor.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I be exempted on the basis of my previous academic work? Why do I have to take an exemption exam?

Exemptions are only granted upon passing the exam, not on credentials. Students have to pass an exemption exam to prove proficiency in a course based on the standards of the materials taught at Columbia Business School, since content can vary from school to school. Through this process, we ensure that Columbia MBAs have a consistent level of knowledge in our core curriculum when the program is completed.

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Can I exempt from elective pre-requisites?

Though not a core course, Capital Markets & Investments is a common prerequisite for most upper-level finance courses. Students may attempt to waive this course by taking an exemption exam at any time the exemption exam is offered (typically at the beginning of a new term).

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When are the exemption exams offered?

Exemption exams are offered during a 1-2 month period leading up to Orientation, and again at a later point during a student's first semester. Specific offering dates can always be found on the exemption exam Canvas page, which students can access beginning 1-2 months prior to Orientation.

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Where can I find information to help me prepare for the exams?

Entering students will have access to an exemption exam course link on their home page in Canvas once they've registered for the Pre-MBA Program and been notified by email that they can log on to the site. There they will find syllabi for core courses for which there are exemption exams. The amount of information posted to the page is at the faculty's discretion.  There will also be information regarding the format of the exam and what materials may be used for the exam. 

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Is it permissible to use materials or notes from current or past Columbia Business School students as preparation materials for exemption exams?

No, this would be considered a violation of the Honor Code. You should refer to the exemption exam information on Canvas, which provides the necessary background and has been approved for use by the faculty.

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May I contact the professor directly to ask for additional information?

All questions regarding exemption exams should be directed to the Office of Student Affairs or by email to Exemptions@gsb.columbia.edu.

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When do I find out if I've passed an exemption exam?

Notification timeframes for each exemption exam period are available on the exemption exam Canvas page. Generally, students will be informed at the end of a given offering period. Should you successfully exempt from a course, it will appear with a “P” on SSOL to denote that you passed. This will not be factored into your GPA, nor will you receive any credits. It is strictly a notation that you passed your exemption exam.

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Can I still enroll in a class that I passed the exemption? 

Students may pass an exam in order to get the prerequisite for an upper-level elective but still choose to remain in the course.  A "Core Course Re-enrollment" form will be available on BOSS, and should be submitted for this purpose.  Also,  you can choose to audit the course you exempted. Note that auditing is an informal agreement between a student and a professor and is not credit-bearing.

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What grade is required to pass the exemption exam?  Does everyone pass?

The grade required to pass the exemption exam is at the discretion of the grading faculty.  All decisions are final.  Please be aware that while we encourage students to attempt to exempt, there is no guarantee of passing the exam. 

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What should I do if I learn I've passed an exemption exam?

Students who exempt out of core courses may log into BOSS, Columbia Business School’s online course selection system, at boss.gsb.columbia.edu to select courses during the add/drop period. Instructions on how to use BOSS can be found by clicking the MBA Selection Guide tab on BOSS. For additional guidance on courses to take or information on how to use the system, please see the FAQ/Help page of BOSS. 

Does passing an exemption exam reduce the number of courses I need to take in order to graduate?

No, exemptions do not reduce the number of credits required for the MBA degree; they simply enable students to take additional electives.

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If I pass an exemption exam, do I receive additional bid points?

Students who exempt out of first-semester core courses are given the opportunity to enroll in electives in add/drop which is a point-free enrollment round; they do not receive additional bid points because they do not need to bid for these electives. Students who exempt out of second-semester core courses will be given 500 additional points with which to bid on electives during online course bidding. Additional bid points are not given for exempting out of Real Estate Finance or Capital Markets & Investments, which are electives.

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What electives can I take if I pass an exemption exam?

Many students take Capital Markets & Investments because it's a pre- or co-requisite for most upper-level finance courses. However, students may take any elective that has seats available, as long as they’ve fulfilled that course’s prerequisites. Course descriptions and prerequisites are found in the MBA Course schedule located on BOSS). You must be logged into BOSS to see full course descriptions. Both the class schedule and a list of suggested electives for first-term students can be found in the MBA Selection Guide on BOSS.

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If I fail an exemption exam, does it appear on my transcript?

Failed exemption exams are not recorded on students' academic transcripts; there are no negative consequences to taking and failing an exemption exam.

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If I fail an exemption exam, may I retake it at a later date?

A student may only attempt each exemption exam once; exemption exams may not be retaken.

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What should I do if I'm not satisfied with the grade I received on my exemption exam?

Exemption grades are final — there are no grade appeals.

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Where can I find study materials for the exam?

Exemption exams should be taken by those with background in the subject, they are not meant to be studied for.  Course syllabi will be posted to the Canvas pages to review what will be covered in the course and on the exam. 

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