Political Theory Comprehensive Exam Guidelines

These guidelines are for the political theory comprehensive exam specifically, because what counts as command of the field is quite different than in the other subfields in political science.

While knowledge of a wide range of literatures and debates is important within each field, the subfield of political theory tends to place greater emphasis on developing a particular argument in response to a philosophical question (e.g. what is justice?), comparing different kinds of arguments (e.g. liberalism vs. Marxism or communitarianism), and/or teasing out the theoretical implications of a particular event, phenomenon or concept (e.g. genealogies of sexuality, truth, knowledge, etc.).

Test Preparation

  1. You should prepare for exam in consultation with a professor of political theory.
  2. You should meet with the professor at least three times during the semester.
  3. Prior to meeting with the professor, you should select between 15‐20 texts, for which you wish to be held responsible. Texts may be by the same theorist. A total of 10 theorists should be included in the list.
  4. Prior to the exam, submit to the professor a list of questions and issues that you would like to deal with in the exam. You should focus less on the argument of a particular thinker and more on specific concepts or questions (see above examples).
  5. While already written material cannot be used in the exam, you should prepare notes to rely upon during the exam. Such notes may include the page citations for key arguments. Note that you will be required to back up your claims with evidence from the text. As a consequence, knowing on what page certain arguments can be found in the text will be quite useful.

Exam Guidelines

  1. Each response should be 8 to 10 pages long, double‐spaced. Use one‐inch margins and times new roman font. Please number the pages.
  2. Address at least 8 texts from your reading list. Again, some of those texts may be by the same author.
  3. Avoid dealing with the same theorist in every essay, although some overlap is okay, especially if you are drawing on a different text from the same theorist. For example, in one essay you may focus on Marx's Manifesto and in another essay you may use Capital, or in one essay you may focus on Rousseau's Discourse on the Origins of Inequality and in another you rely primarily on The Social Contract.
  4. Answers to the questions should not include work already written. Internet sources are not permitted. Answers must rely on the texts as evidence for arguments.
  5. Exam should use parenthetical citations and include a list of works cited. You may use footnote citations if you prefer. Be sure to provide complete information on the texts you use.
  6. Answers will be evaluated according to four related criteria: a) Quality of overall argument b) Degree to which chosen question is answered c) Grasp of the main arguments of the texts chosen and d) Use of textual evidence to back up claims.

Evaluation of the Exam

  1. Exams are graded pass or no pass.
  2. Students will be given a written evaluation of their exam. They will have one week to submit a written response if they wish to contest the results.