Comprehensive Exams

Comprehensive Examination Guidelines

Field committees determine the examination formats. Students planning to take the examination should carefully read the attached guidelines pertaining to their M.A. field(s).

Every effort will be made to develop a fair and balanced exam schedule in order to accommodate the different exam formats. The Graduate Coordinator, in conjunction with the various field committee chairs, will appoint an examination committee for each field typically consisting of three to four faculty members.    
Below find narratives describing the different formats.

American Politics

Format: The examination is a take-home exam (receive Friday morning and return Monday by NOON).

Content: The exam will contain questions from the subfields American Institutions, Political Behavior, State and Local Politics and Policy, depending on the student's coursework. From the list of questions, students will be required to answer four (4), with no more than two (2) questions coming from any specific subfield.

Comparative Politics

The exam is to encourage evaluation and critical analysis of competing theories and methods of Comparative Politics as well as substantive debates in this field. The students must demonstrate comprehension and ability to construct an argument, that is, we seek the students' own insights and position in such debates. 

Format: The examination is a take-home exam (receive Friday morning and return Monday by NOON).

Students will answer three (3) questions from a pool of questions. The examination will have two (2) parts:

Part I: General questions concerning primary debates in the comparative fields. Students must select one (1) questions from this part. 

Part II: Questions which combine theoretical concerns with knowledge of a particular area(s). This will reflect the coursework of students. Students must select their second question from this part. The third question may be selected from either part. All answers must be typed, double-spaced. Each answer should be a minimum of eight (8) pages and not exceed twelve (12) pages. 

Students may use books and notes and provide citations in simplified format (author, date).

International Relations

The exam is to test evaluation and critical analysis of theories in this field. 

Format: The examination is a take-home exam (receive Friday morning and return Monday by NOON). Students can use resources, such as class-notes and books to help in the composition of the test. 

Students will answer three (3) questions from a pool of six (6) questions. 

The examination will contain specific instructions how to proceed in answering the questions. Field Committee (International Relations).

Samples of Past Examination Questions From Various Fields

NOTE: These are example questions ONLY! Their purpose is to provide you with a very general sense of the nature of these questions. Some are very broad; others are much more narrowly couched. You should use the class materials and advice of your professors as a guide in your preparations. Examination formats may change over time. It is your responsibility to be aware of any changes. 

Make sure that you read all your examination questions very carefully, that you organize your answers well, and that you provide appropriate literature references in support of your assertions. 

  1. Some people argue that we are on the threshold of a new interntional order. In their view, the end of the cold war will diminish the likelihood of international conflict. Others have doubted this view and argue that international conflict will be more likely and, given modern technology, more ferocious. Evaluate both arguments by considering appropriate literature and decide which one is the more persuasive to you. In your evaluation you should consider:
    - Circumstances that are generally associated with international conflict (examples include anarchy, the distribution of power, relative gains);
    - Whether those circumstances no longer exist, or are becoming increasingly irrelevant. For this item, you should include some discussion or international institutions, norms and ideas. 
  2. Students of international politics debate how to incorporate the "logic of capitalism" into their analyses. By incorporating relevant literature, what do you think are the most profitable avenues for international relations theory?
  3. Public Administration is highly political. What does this mean? Give some examples of the way in which politics influence so-called "rational" bureaucratic activities. Can we ever get to a point where politics will not play an important role in public organizations? Why or why not? Should politics be eliminated from public administration? Explain your answer.
  4. There has been much concern since New Deal times regarding the specter of bureaucratic dominance over traditional democratic institutions, processes, and norms. Assess the major arguments on both sides of this issue and set forth your own position. Conclude your essay with a consideration of some of the major recommendations for ensuring a balance between democratic values and bureaucratic necessity.
  5. Some analysts are concerned about the federal budget process and call for its reform. What suggestions have they advanced to correct these problems? Using your readings, what are the defects or deficiencies pointed out by those critics? Would the organizational affiliation of such a critic influence his/her judgement?
  6. Political scientists conduct the study of politics from many different perspectives and approaches. Among the most popular is the comparative method. Discuss the strengths and the weaknesses of the comparative method by citing appropriate examples and literature. 
  7. An important decision that political scientists must face when designing research is choosing an appropriate level of analysis. Discuss the potential pitfall of not carefully choosing the level of analysis for research projects giving special attention to problems such as "ecological and individualistic fallacies." Cite appropriate literature and provide relevant examples in support of your arguments. 
  8. Much of the theory building in the area of economic and political integration has been based on the European experience, with considerably less attention being given to the Third World. Yet the developing world has been the scene for a great many integration schemes, though to date few have progressed as far as the European Community. Latin America, in particular, has been a laboratory of sorts for integration, albeit one which has witnessed many more failures than successes. Are the theories developed in the European context valid when transplanted to Latin America? If not, how can they be amended to provide a better "fit" with the realities of the Latin American context? If such theories are generalizable beyond Europe, what would they tell us about the prospects for integration within Latin America?
  9. Identify and explain the dimensions of institutionalization. For the American national institutions of the presidency and Congress answer the following:
    - In what ways is this branch institutionalized? (i.e. what are the specific features of institutionalizations within this particular branch of government?)
    - What led to the institutionalization of this branch?
    - What are the consequences of institutionalization for:
    * The operation of this branch of government?
    * The power of this branch as an institution?
    * The power of individuals serving within this branch?
  10. Political commentators are fond of pointing out that in most years between 1952 and 1992, partisan control of the national government has been divided between the two major parties. Based on your reading of the literature, what are the causes and consequences of divided government? Is the operation of American government fundamentally different under unified party control? Why or why not?