Comprehensive Exams

You may take the comprehensive exam in your last or second-to-last semester of the MA program, since college policy requires at least 21 credits before taking the exam.  The College also allows the exam to be re-taken once.

Registration:  Early in the semester that you hope to take the exam, please notify your MA Program Chair that you plan to take the exam, and then apply through the college website (the college bulletin lists the specific stated deadline).
1. Sign in to the WebCentral Portal at
2. Select the “eServices” tab and then look for the “Student Transactions” channel
3. Select the “Apply for a comprehensive exam” item in the Graduate Studies section (the college’s guidelines on registration are detailed here: BC Registration Comp Exam.   If you miss the deadline for registration, contact your Chair.

Format:  The exams are one-week take-home exams.   Each essay should be approximately  five double-spaced pages.  Outside research and references are not required, but theories, concepts, and examples from your coursework should be used. The  Exam consists of four questions: two from the field of International Relations and two from Comparative Politics.  You answer your choice of one question from each field.

Schedule: The exam is e-mailed one week before it is due.  Spring 2017: exam sent out April 22 at 5:00 pm and due April 29 at 5:00 pm.

Preparation: In order to prepare for the exam, we suggest that you do the following:

1. Collect, organize, and review all of your syllabi, notes, and exams from the courses that you took.  Faculty spend a lot of time creating syllabi, selecting the most important texts, and organizing them to reflect the central questions of the field.

2. Borrow from the Political Science Department, in 3413 James, the textbooks which provide an overview of essential concepts and theories.  The books are located on the front desk and can be checked out for two hours at a time, or longer with permission.

3. Review the principal readings from your courses as well as the texts suggested below.

4. Use the study guides below to create your own study guide that summarizes the main arguments, authors, and theories of the field.

5. Attend a study session.  If you would like to meet with a group of other students and faculty, let us know and we will organize a study session at a time convenient for your schedules.

Points for Writing Passing Exams

1. The essay must answer the question asked.  Focusing your analysis on related topics, even if well-presented, is not acceptable. If the reader cannot tell which question you are answering, then you have not answered the question.(If you write on a related topic, you have not answered the question, and thus have not written a passing answer.)

2. Each essay must have an ARGUMENT, which is clearly stated in the first paragraph. This statement should convey what claim you defend in the essay/the position you take in the scholarly debate. (If you do not have an argument, you cannot answer the question, and thus have not written a passing answer).

3. Each essay must be clearly structured, beginning with a statement summarizing the response to the questions, and followed by clear and specific points to support that response.  It should be clear to the reader how each paragraph supports the main argument.

4. The essay should provide specific examples for each point made.  For example, an essay analyzing three causes of armed conflict should mention one specific example for each cause discussed.

5. Each essay must cite at least three scholars in the field. You should select scholars whose work is appropriate to the question asked, and your characterization of their argument must be correct.

6. Each essay must be clearly-written and be free of grammatical errors.

7. All sources must be cited following Chicago or APA structure.  Quotes, figures, and theories are among the sources that require citations.

Study Guides

Here are study guides for each of the four fields.  Each has three sections: questions areas, practice questions, and readings lists.  Some readings listed in the guides are posted below.

Guide for International Relations

Guide for Comparative Politics


Some international relations readings:

Williams-Liberal Theorists


Some comparative politics readings:



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