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Suggestions for Preparing for the M.A. and the Ph.D. Examinations

Department of Political Science
Case Western Reserve University

Review the Department Guidelines. These guidelines describe the objectives and structure of the exams.

Select Courses Carefully. Courses with regular faculty members, instead of visitors, and courses with a variety of faculty members will be useful in preparing for the exams. A comparison of M.A. Reading Lists and course descriptions may also indicate which courses will be most helpful for examination preparation. Moreover, students may design an independent study, POSC 601, to assist them in preparing for the exams. In most cases, students should work with a faculty member who is a specialist in the subfield in which the student is least prepared. (For comparative, students have the option of attending Professor McMann’s POSC 260: Introduction to Comparative Politics, as part of their POSC 601 program of study.)

Establish a Schedule. At the beginning of their graduate career, students should think about which semester they plan to take their exams. After having taken a few courses, all graduate students should review the M.A. reading lists to begin to evaluate how much study outside of coursework will be necessary for successful completion of exams. Students should set aside time for this independent work. Doctoral students need to set aside additional time to develop their own reading lists for their primary and secondary subfields.

Take Notes. To facilitate studying for the exams, students should take notes on course and reading list materials. M.A. students should take notes to help them explain, critique, integrate, and apply the arguments of the leading works in American Politics & Government, Comparative Politics, and International Relations. Ph.D. students should take notes to help them explain, critique, integrate, and apply the arguments of the leading works in the subfield of focus, to fully describe the evolution of the subfield, and to propose new directions for research in that subfield. One approach to note-taking is to document the argument, the type of evidence used, the relationship to other key works in the field, and one’s own criticisms.

Form a Study Group. Students may want to form a study group with other graduate students in preparation for the exams. The Graduate Coordinator can provide students’ exam schedules and contact information.

Meet with Faculty. Students should consult their advisors, the Graduate Coordinator, and other faculty for advice about each of the topics above. Faculty can be particularly helpful in offering suggestions about course selection. Students should also meet with faculty from the subfields to discuss substantive questions that may arise in the course of studying for exams.

Page last modified: October 20, 2015