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 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 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 is 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), 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 the two 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. Normally, students complete preliminary exams beginning at the end of the second year, and during the third year. With DGS approval, in exceptional cases completion of one exam at the end of the first year or in the middle of the second year may be sensible.

Students officially indicate their intention to take an exam in a designated area six weeks before the exam will be given by signing up with the student affairs coordinator. Each exam involves a three-day take-home exam. Students who wish to take their two exams at the same cycle may do so and receive seven days to complete the two exams. Preliminary exams are given twice a year: January and May. The January exam begins on Tuesday morning of the week prior to the start of the spring semester. The May exam begins on Monday morning following the end of the final exam period for the spring semester. Students receive the exam questions via email at 9 am from the student affairs coordinator at the beginning of the exam period. Because of the Monday holiday, the January preliminary offering will run Tuesday – Thursday when taking one exam or Tuesday – Monday when taking two exams. The May preliminary offerings will run Monday – Wednesday if taking one exam or Monday – Sunday if taking two exams. For semester start and end dates, please reference the Academic Calendar. The exams should be returned via email by 5 pm to the student affairs coordinator on the last scheduled exam date specified in the email instructions. 

Exams are open-book and open-notes. Students may consult any written materials, but not any other person. Evidence of collaboration is grounds for failure. If students receive the preliminary exam questions and then decide to withdraw, this will result in an automatic fail.

Preliminary exams results are 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 results in program dismissal.