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We have fabricated Fe∕Sm–Co bilayers with gradient Fe thicknesses in order to systematically study the dependence of exchange coupling on the thickness of the Fe layer. The Fe layer was deposited at two different temperatures (150 and 300°C) to study the effect of deposition temperature on the exchange coupling. Magneto-optical Kerr effect and x-ray magnetic circular dichroism (XMCD) have been employed as nondestructive rapid characterization tools to map the magnetic properties of the gradient samples. Systematic enhancement in exchange coupling between the soft layer and the hard layer is observed as the soft layer thickness is decreased. Separate exchange couplings of the Fe layer with Co and Sm in the hard layer are revealed through measuring the element-specific hysteresis curves using XMCD. The single-phase-like magnetization reversal critical thickness increases from 12nm for Fe deposited at 150°C to 24nm for Fe deposited at 300°C, indicating an important role of the state of the interface in the exchange coupling.