Political Science

Junior Qual

The junior qualifying examination in Political Science is a primarily diagnostic instrument designed to determine whether and to what extent individual second-semester juniors majoring in political science are well-prepared – conceptually, theoretically, and methodologically – to engage serious scholarly materials in the discipline. Such engagement is, of course, a pre-requisite for doing original independent research in political science, including senior thesis research. The junior qual thus functions as a tool for helping determine whether and to what extent a student is well prepared – “qualified” – to have a successful and rewarding senior thesis experience.

The examination itself will consist of two separate essays. Each essay will be a critical examination of a recently published article from the professional literature in political science. All students in a particular year will receive the same defined menu of published articles representing the four subfields of the discipline as we have identified them: American politics and public policy, comparative politics, international relations, and political theory. The menu will also reflect the department’s recent upper-division course offerings, but will not include any assigned readings from the courses themselves. Students will be free to choose, from the menu, any two articles they wish to analyze, provided only that the articles are chosen from different subfields. 

Each of the two critical essays should be about 1,500 words in length. Students will be expected to write their examinations over any seventy-two hour period of their choosing – from pick-up to submission – during an eighteen-day window that begins on the Friday immediately before Spring break and ends two weeks after the Monday of Spring break. (The equivalent schedule will apply in the Fall for Fall-semester second-semester juniors.) Examinations will be picked up and submitted electronically, and compliance with the seventy-two hour time-frame will be monitored and certified by the department’s administrative coordinator.   

Essays may vary in structure, depending, at least in part, on subfield. But every essay should seek to identify, in some combination and in some manner, the scholarly problem that is being addressed, the differing or competing viewpoints that the article is engaging, and the central claim or claims that the article is purporting to defend. Every essay should attempt to situate the problem and the scholarly debate in a larger conceptual and theoretical context, presumably as reflected in the student’s previous coursework. Every essay should indicate the kinds of methodologies that the article is employing, and the specific evidence that it is presenting in support of its argument. And every essay should be, to the degree possible, critical. “Critical” does not mean negative. But it does mean that every essay should provide a well-reasoned assessment of the article in terms of how well the problem has been formulated, the suitability of the methodology, the quality of the evidence itself, and the degree to which conclusions are justified. Insofar as concerns are discovered in any of these respects, an essay might benefit from offering, if only briefly and tentatively, suggestions for how the research problem might have been addressed more fruitfully.

The junior qualifying examination in political science is an open-book examination. But while additional research for the examination is not ruled out, it is neither expected nor desired. Importantly, this is also an individual examination. Collaboration among students is not permitted.

In addition to conceptual, theoretical and methodological elements, essays will be evaluated with respect to more general features of good writing and persuasive reasoning. Normally, evaluation of examinations will be made by the department as a whole. As indicated above, the examination is understood to be largely diagnostic in nature – an opportunity for the faculty to assess both the progress of individual students and the overall quality of the educational program in political science, as well as an opportunity for students to assess themselves. It is possible to fail this examination, but historically failures have been extremely rare. The faculty fully expects all students to pass, though “conditional passes” in which students are asked to rewrite a portion of the exam have not been unusual.