The Comprehensive Exam is a take-home essay exam taken in the student’s final semester. 

Guidelines for the Comprehensive Exam

Students in the Political Science M.A. Program must take the Comprehensive Examination or complete a master’s thesis.

Content and Administration of Exam

The Comprehensive Exam is a take-home essay exam given each semester in the fields of American Government and Politics, and International Relations.   Students select four essay questions from a set of at least eight questions, and write essays that draw upon the political science literature and research used in their courses.  Students write up to 25 pages in total, thus each essay is about 5-6 pages long.  Students receive the exam on a Thursday morning and turn it in the following Monday afternoon.

Selecting Courses

When selecting courses, students should keep in mind that the exam questions come directly from political science courses.  Courses taught in other departments will not be covered on the exam, so students must make sure to have a strong foundation in course work in the selected field of study (either American Politics or International Relations).  Students planning to take the comprehensive exam should meet periodically with the Graduate Director to discuss course selection. 

The Semester of the Exam

During the semester a student will be taking the exam, the student should:

       Schedule a meeting with the Graduate Director to discuss the exam and to pick up a packet of past exams. 

       Sign up to take the exam with the Graduate Director.  Each semester, the Director will send an email message via the Graduate Student Listserv (PSCIGRADS) with the deadline for signing up, and with the dates of the exam for that semester.

       Study for the exam by intensively reviewing and re-reading course materials. 


A panel of 3-4 readers from the Political Science faculty evaluates each exam.  Exams are graded on a distinguished pass/pass/fail basis.  Readers look for exams that demonstrate knowledge of the relevant political science literature, especially the material covered in coursework, and that shows an ability to integrate and apply that knowledge to the specific issues that each question raises. 

Students are typically informed of the results within two weeks of taking the exam.  If a student fails the exam, s/he can take it again the following semester.