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:  Registration opens at the end of the first month of each semester, the college bulletin lists that semester’s deadline.  To register, follow these three steps:
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 exam is take-home and 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.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.

Schedule: The exam is e-mailed one week before it is due.  Spring 2018: exam sent out April 21th at 5:00 pm and due April 28th.

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.  Syllabi contain the most central texts, and organizes 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 a full day.

3. Write practice essays.  Please write to the Graduate Chair to receive practice questions that will then be returned with comments and suggestions.

4. Review the principal readings from your courses as well as the texts suggested below.   Use the study guides below to create your own study guide that summarizes the main arguments, authors, and theories of the field.

5.  Create a study group.  You will be provided with the e-mails of all students taking the exam in order to set up a time to meet.

Points for Writing Passing Exams

1. The essay must answer the question asked.  Focusing 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.

2. Each essay must have a clear 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.  All sources must be cited following Chicago or APA structure.  Quotes, figures, and theories are among the sources that require citations.

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

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

Walt-IR Theory

Some comparative politics readings:



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