Preliminary Exams

Mastery of sociology as a discipline requires in-depth study of specific areas of interest and broad coverage of the major themes of sociological inquiry. Sociology as a field has a large number of specializations and the faculty in the department at Brown cover many of these areas. The areas of specialization selected as preliminary exam areas normally represent the areas in which the student plans to teach and carry out research for the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees.

Students will specialize in two areas of sociology selected from a standing list of areas offered by the department. The standing list includes the following eleven areas: Cultural Sociology, Environmental Sociology, Health and Illness in Social Context Organizations and Occupations, Political Economy of Development and Globalization, Political Sociology, Social Demography, Social Inequality, Social Theory, Sociology of Race, Ethnicity, and International Migration, and Urban Sociology.

The exams for each area will draw on a standard bibliography of the field, compiled and maintained by the standing faculty committees who are the examiners in each area. Each exam will be written by two members of the standing faculty committee in the relevant area. Each area is approximately the breadth of a section of the American Sociological Association, or a recognized subfield within sociology. Students are also advised to complete the relevant advanced seminar(s) or SOC 2980 (fall) / SOC 2981 (spring): Reading and Research before taking the exam. Familiarity with the topics on the reading list, combined with relevant coursework, provide the necessary base for exam preparation. Reading beyond the reading list is strongly encouraged. In exceptional cases, students may propose an alternative exam approximately equivalent in breadth to the existing areas (i.e., an ASA section) in an area not regularly offered. The graduate committee will consider these alternatives only if two faculty members have agreed to be examiners. Completion of these preliminary examinations should take place before the beginning of the 4th year of study. Students should, however, begin planning their areas of specialization through consulting with their advisor early in their graduate study.

Preliminary exams are given twice a year: January and May. The January exam begins on Monday morning of the week prior to the start of the spring semester. The May exam begins on Monday morning of the week after the official end of the spring semester. Students are to officially indicate their intention to take an exam in a designated area six weeks before the exam will be given. Students indicate their intention to take a preliminary exam by signing up with the student affairs coordinator. Each exam will involve a three-day take-home exam. Students who wish to take their two exams at the same cycle may do so and will be provided seven days to complete the two exams. 

Students will receive the exam questions via email at 9 AM from the student affairs coordinator at the beginning of the exam period, and must return the answers via email to the student affairs coordinator by the time and date specified in the email instructions.

Preliminary exams results will be provided the first business day two weeks after the collection of exam answers. Exam results are recorded as pass or fail. In rare cases, for unusually exceptional work, pass with distinction may be awarded. Students who fail the first exam must retake it at the next preliminary exam offering. Failure to pass the second exam will result in program dismissal.