MPA Comprehensive Examinations

All Master of Public Administration degree candidates must successfully complete a written comprehensive examination. The responsibility for initiating the process rests with the student in consultation with his/her advisory committee.

This exam is normally taken late in the student’s final semester. It consists of two portions, one focusing upon the MPA core courses is taken the first day of the exam period and the other which deals with the courses taken in the student’s area of specialization occurs the second day.

Both portions of the exam must be passed in order to comply with this requirement. A passing performance requires agreement among a majority of the committee. The committee will give an overall grade of “pass with distinction”,” pass”, or “fail”.

Request to take the comprehensive exam: Each semester the director of graduate studies will post dates associated with the examination process. The first of these will require students taking the exam to meet with the director to state their intention and discuss the steps to be taken.

Preparation for the Examination

Meeting with the MPA Faculty: At about the mid-point in the semester, students taking the exam will meet with the entire MPA faculty to discuss the process and the expectations. To ensure that the committee and the candidate are on the same page at the completion of this meeting the candidate should communicate his/her understanding of the issues addressed at the meeting in written form to the director of graduate studies.

Approval to Schedule Final Examination Form:  In order to schedule the examination with the Graduate School, an “Approval to Schedule Final Examination” form must be obtained from and returned to the Graduate School. The form is available under the “Form Finder” link on the Graduate School’s web site []. All members of the student’s graduate supervisory committee must sign this form.

Core Course Review Questions:  Three weeks before the exam review questions will be distributed. The core course review questions will be divided into four sections reflecting the four core area of public administration – research methods, public personnel management, organization theory and public budgeting.  Each section will contain two or three review questions. They will be prepared by the MPA faculty member responsible for each core course.

Area of Specialization Review Questions:  Also three weeks prior to the exam date three questions dealing with the area of specialization will be distributed. These will be prepared by the area of specialization representative on each student’s graduate advisory committee.

Review Questions and Exam Questions:  The questions appearing on the actual exams will be taken directly from these review questions.

Consultation with Individual Faculty:  Typically the student will follow-up individually and in detail with each member of the MPA faculty who is responsible for any of the core questions and the area of specialization representative.

The Core Course Comprehensive Examination: The core course comprehensive examination is typically divided into four sections corresponding to the four core public administration areas addressed in our program. A response will be required to one question, taken directly from the review questions, in each of the sections for a total of four questions. Four hours [usually 9:00 am to 1:00 pm] are allotted for the exam. You may not bring any materials with you to the exam. You will be provided with a laptop PC.

  • Research Methods: The question in this section will deal with material covered in either Research Methods [POLSC 700] or Policy Analysis and Evaluation [POLSC 710]
  • Public Personnel Management: The question in this section will deal with material covered in Public Personnel Administration [POLSC 708]
  • Public Organization Theory: The question in this section will deal with material covered in Public Organization Theory [POLSC 735]
  • Public Budgeting: The question in this section will deal with material covered in Public Budgeting [POLSC 737]

The Area of Specialization Comprehensive Examination: Two of the three review questions will be included in the exam. Both are to be answered. Two hours [usually 9:00 am to 11:00 am] are allotted for the exam. You may not bring any materials with you to the exam. You will be provided with a laptop PC.

Grading the Examination:   The student must pass both the area of specialization exam and the core course exam in order to pass the written comprehensive examination requirement. The core course portion of the exam will be evaluated anonymously by the entire MPA faculty. The area of specialization exam is graded by the area of specialization representative in the student’s graduate advisory committee. Each question will be graded as “fail”, “pass” or “pass with distinction”.

If the student fails one question on either or both exams, an immediate retake of the question area failed is allowed. This retake can involve either another monitored exam exercise, a take home exercise, or an oral examination.

If the student fails more than one question on either exam the student fails the entire exam, must retake both the core course and the area of specialization components of the exam, and the Graduate School’s rules for retakes come into play. Specifically, only one retake is allowed. The student must wait at least two months but no more than fifteen months to take the retake.  According to the rules established by the Graduate School, a third examination is not permitted.

Notifying the Student: Students shall receive evaluation of their performance via email with a letter to follow within two weeks after the examination