Preliminary Examinations

The preliminary examinations are designed to test your knowledge of the theories and substantive debates in the discipline of political science. Graduate students are required to pass preliminary examinations (a comprehensive written exam plus a comprehensive oral exam) in two of the four subfields (American, Comparative, International Relations, Political Theory), one designated as primary field and the other as secondary field, at the beginning of their fifth full-time semester in the program. Each subfield sets its own expectations for the content of the written exam but all subfields distinguish primary from secondary field and grading will reflect this distinction. Grading options are as follows: (a) pass with distinction; (b) pass; (c) fail.

Students must complete twelve courses as indicated by grades of B or better on their transcript before taking preliminary examinations, no exceptions. Students must take a minimum of two courses in each subfield they are taking an exam in. One of these courses must be the proseminar. No student with an incomplete shall be allowed to take a preliminary exam. Students must declare their primary and secondary fields by the middle of their second year.

Exam committees will be set by the Director of Graduate Studies and students will be notified of their examiners several months before the exam. There is one committee per subfield and each exam committee consists of two faculty members in that subfield. It is possible to have an exam committee of faculty that students have not taken courses with. Students should expect to meet with the faculty examiners in advance of the exam. Faculty will discuss the expectations for the exam and make clear exactly what range of material students are expected to master. Each subfield will keep a current reading list for students to use as a guide to exam preparation. The reading list should be a guide to core material for the exam but the exam may also cover material from the relevant proseminar and from other courses the student has taken.

Written preliminary examinations will be in late August, prior to the start of the Fall semester of the third year in the program. Oral exams typically fall within a week to ten days after the completion of the written exam or as soon as possible based on faculty schedules. The Graduate Program Coordinator will coordinate exact exam dates (written and oral) and notify students as soon as possible.  Exceptions to this timing may be made with special permission of the DGS for individual students who have a strong research-based rationale (e.g., they must spend the summer after their second year doing fieldwork and are therefore unable to prepare for exams during that period.)  Normally the DGS will consult with the student's advisor(s) to confirm the rationale for a research-based exception.

Written exams: Each subfield sets its own expectations for the content of the written exam. Each written exam is eight hours long; students receive the exam at 9:00 am and must submit their completed exam by 5:00 pm. The written exam is open book and open notes but all writing for the exam must be original and new - i.e., no cutting and pasting of previously written notes or material is permitted. 

Oral exams: Students are required to take oral exams in both the primary and secondary subfields, with 60 minutes given to each subfield. Both subfield committees meet concurrently with the student for a combined two-hour exam. Immediately following the completion of the oral examination, the examination committee shall meet in executive session to determine an overall grade for the preliminary examination (written examinations plus oral examination). Once a grade has been determined, the committee shall inform the student immediately of this decision.

It is possible to fail one or both of the field examinations. Students who are judged to have failed all or part of one or both examinations will immediately move to warning status and be required to retake the exam(s) in question in December prior to the last official day of class of the fall semester (if the first exam was taken in August/September) or August/September if the student received an exception and took the first exam the previous May i.e., the end of the spring semester of the student's second year). If a committee determines that the written exam by itself is unpassable, the committee can cancel the oral exam and fail the student. Both preliminary exams must be passed successfully by the end of the first semester of the third year in the program. 

If a student in consultation with the DGS and their advisor requests to delay taking preliminary exams until December of their third year and is approved, the student immediately moves to warning status for the fall semester and forfeits their chance to retake the exam if they fail either or both exams.

Students who have passed at least one preliminary exam by September of their third year are permitted to register for the prospectus class (POLS2050). Students who have not passed at least one preliminary exam by September of their third year cannot move forward to the prospectus writing stage and must register for an elective course to remina in active status with the Registrar. 

Failing either or both preliminary examinations after taking them a second time or after taking exams for the first time in December is cause for immediate withdrawal from the graduate program.