Preliminary Examinations

The preliminary examinations are designed to test your knowledge of the theories and substantive debates in the discipline of political science. You must sit for examination in two of the four subfields (American, Comparative, International Relations, Political Theory). For each subfield exam you will be examined by a committee of two faculty members, assigned by the DGS. The content of each subfield exam is defined by the pro-seminar syllabus and core reading list, which is on file in the department office. Students are strongly encouraged to consult with the members of their exam committees for guidance in preparing for the exams. Each exam is comprised of a written exam and a subsequent oral exam, both of which are evaluated by the members of the relevant exam committee. 

The normal time for taking the preliminary examinations is the beginning of the fifth full-time semester in the program, which will normally occur in the first semester of the third year. Exams are administered in September. The oral exams typically fall within a week to ten days after the completion of the written exams. Although most students will take both exams in September of the third year, students may petition the DGS to take one or both subfield exams in May of the second year. 

Students must complete ten out of twelve courses before taking preliminary exams. These would include all core courses needed for exam preparation. Students must take a minimum of two courses in each of the subfields in which they will take preliminary exams, one of which is the subfield’s proseminar. No student with an incomplete will be allowed to take a preliminary examination. 

It is possible to fail one or both of the field examinations. Students who are judged to have failed all or part of an examination will be required to retake the exam(s) in question. The preliminary exams must be passed successfully by the end of the third year in the program at the very latest. Failing the prelims a second time is cause for withdrawal from the program.

The Department recognizes that extraordinary circumstances -- e.g. illness, family responsibilities -- may necessitate exceptions to these rules. You may petition the DGS for an exception, and any and all exceptions must be approved by the Department's Graduate Affairs Committee.

The Examination Process

  • The Director of Graduate Studies shall determine the scheduling of the written examinations and the selection of the examination committees.
  • Prior to the beginning of the examination semester, the Director of Graduate Studies will ask second-year students to declare whether they intend to take their prelims on schedule and, if so, in which subfields. Based on the responses, the DGS will select an examination committee from each field, schedule the written and oral exam dates for each participating student, and communicate this information both to students and faculty members.
  • The written preliminary examination shall be a 72-hour, take-home, open book examination covering both subfields. The completed exam should be about 20-25 double-spaced, typed pages per subfield. If only one exam is taken, you will have 36 hours for the written exam.
  • After completion of the written examination, each student shall be required to sit an oral examination for each subfield with that subfield's full exam committee.
  • Immediately following completion of the oral examination, the examination committee shall meet in executive session to determine an overall grade for the preliminary examination (written examinations + oral examination).
  • The only grading options available to a faculty examination committee are as follows: (a) pass with distinction; (b) pass; (c) fail. If the examination committee determines that a graduate student has failed both field examination areas, the student will be judged to have failed the prelims, and will be given the option of retaking the written examinations and the oral at the beginning of the next semester, under the supervision of an examination committee. If the examination committee determines that a graduate student has failed only one field examination area, the student will be judged to have failed the prelims, and will be given the option of retaking the written examination and the oral in that single field area at the beginning of the following semester, under the supervision of a two-person examination committee. Exam dates for students retaking their prelims will be set by the DGS in consultation with members of the Graduate Affairs Committee.
  • A student is only allowed to fail examinations once. Failing the prelims a second time is cause for withdrawal from the graduate program.
  • Once a grade has been determined, the committee shall inform the student immediately of its decision.
  • The examination committee shall designate a faculty member who will be responsible for informing the DGS of the student's grade on the preliminary examination.