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Department of Political Science

MA Comprehensive Examination

All Master of Arts 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.


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 state their intention in writing to the director of graduate studies. 


  • Meeting with the Advisory Committee: At about the mid-point in the semester, students taking the exam will meet with their advisory committee 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 meetings 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. All members of the student's graduate supervisory committee must sign this form. The Graduate School views both the written examination and the oral defense of a thesis or report as part of the same examination process. Hence, if you are pursuing the non-thesis/report option, the date on the approval form is the date of the written exam. If, however, you are writing a thesis or report, the date on the approval form is the date of the oral defense of the thesis tor report.

  • 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 course questions.


All exam questions will be prepared by the student's supervisory committee. Where necessary, committee members will consult with professors from whom the student has taken course work.


Each semester the director of graduate studies announces the comprehensive examination date. This date is typically late in the semester. Normally the duration of the exam is a maximum of six hours. In unusual situations, the candidate in consultation with their supervisory committee may request an alternative to the established exam date. The director of graduate studies is responsible for exam logistics.


The comprehensive examination is typically structured as follows:

  • One section is designed to evaluate the student's ability to integrate materials in the major area of concentration -- presumably based in large part upon the field seminar.

  • One section deals specifically with other course work in the major area of concentration.

  • One section is designed to evaluate the student's ability to synthesize materials from several fields of political science -- presumably based upon the four field seminars.


All questions will be read by each member of the student's supervisory committee. Occasionally, a non-committee faculty member from whom the student had classes is asked to contribute question(s) for the exam. In such situations, that faculty member will also read the student's exam, but will not be a voting member of the committee. Under certain circumstances, and at the discretion of the student's advisory committee, an oral exam may be administered as a follow-up to the written comprehensive exam.

Passing performance requires agreement among a majority of the committee. The committee will give an overall grade of "pass with distinction", "pass", or "fail".

A second examination is permitted if a candidate fails all or a portion of a master's examination. The second exam cannot take place fewer than two months or more than fifteen months after the failed examination unless an extension is granted by the Dean of the Graduate School. No third examination will be allowed.


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


Candidates choosing either the thesis or the report option are required to pass an oral defense of the research. At the discretion of the student's supervisory committee, the oral defense may also include questions of a general nature pertaining to the field of political science. The oral examination is taken when the student's committee certifies that a satisfactory copy of the report of thesis has been presented. Passing performance requires agreement among a majority of the committee.


Under the so-called "four seminar paper option" students must submit "clean" copies of the four papers to the director of graduate studies.