Ph.D. students must pass a comprehensive exam in their major field of study and their first minor field. Both the major and minor examinations are given twice a year, usually over a week's time in November and April. The dates of examinations are announced at least a month in advance, at which time students are asked to inform the Graduate Department of their intention to take these tests, along with a statement of the field and sub-field to be taken. In announcing their intentions, students are responsible for adhering to the following regulations:
The written examinations are constructed by all faculty in the field and graded by three-person committees. The major and the minor exams may be taken in the same semester or in consecutive semesters, typically starting in the semester following the completion of the 48th credit. Both must be taken by the end of the third year of graduate study. Students entering the program with a masters degree in hand will typically begin taking their exams in their 4th semester at Rutgers.
- The minor exam from all subfields will be offered on one day, announced early in the semester. The exam lasts 8 hours, but may be taken anywhere the student prefers. Questions and completed essays can be distributed and turned in via email. In fact students must turn in an electronic (Word or Word Perfect) version of their essays to the graduate office, where they will be saved for at least five years. Students can use any aids they want during the exam, including books, articles, electronic versions of notes, pre-written exam answers, and whatever printed documents they can find on the internet. The only thing that is not permitted is help from other people, including email messages written during the exam.
- The major exam is comprised of both a written and an oral examination. The written portion of the major exam from all subfields will be given on the same day, typically one week after the minor exam. The oral portion of the exam is normally scheduled within two weeks of the written exam. Students cannot pass or fail the major exam based on the written portion of the exam alone; both the written and oral portions of the exam matter. [If, however, (a) all three members of the reading committee agree that the written portion of the exam is of such poor quality that it cannot possibly be "saved" by an oral exam, and (b) the student concurs, then the oral portion of the exam need not be taken.] Questions on the major exam should be field-integrative: that is, they should ask students to go beyond the material that was covered in any particular seminar they may have taken. The written portion of the major exam lasts 12 hours, and may be taken anywhere. Questions and completed essays are distributed and can be turned in via email. Students can use any aids they want during the written exam, including books, articles, electronic versions of notes, pre-written exam answers, and whatever printed documents they can find on the internet. The only thing that is not permitted is help from other people, including email messages written during the exam. Students have none of these aids available to them during the oral exam, however. Examiners typically ask a student to elaborate on his or her responses from the written exam, to probe the student's ability to defend and elaborate his or her ideas in greater depth and detail. But the oral exam may also ask a student questions from the written exam that the student had not answered and/or other general questions about the subfield. As with the minor exam, students must submit an electronic (Word or Word Perfect) version of their essays to the graduate office when they turn in their major exam.
If any student fails an exam, they have one more opportunity to take the exam - presumably, the next time the exam is offered. Students who pass one of their exams but fail the other do not have to repeat both exams - just the one they failed.
Students successfully passing both major exams may apply to the graduate school for a Masters degree in political science. There are no additional requirements for obtaining this degree, and while it is not particularly useful, it is free.