Comprehensive Exam in International Relations

International Relations Subfield, Department of Political Science,

University of Notre Dame, March 6, 2002

Preparation for this exam is a chance to build a broader and more integrated view of the field of international relations. You should try to knit together theories, themes, and arguments from your courses and outside readings so that they form a more coherent whole, and you should try to integrate international relations with your other field(s). This exam is part of the passage from being a student consuming international relations courses to a professional producing political science knowledge. The international relations examination is first and foremost part of your intellectual development.

The exam is also our chance to gauge your progress in our program. Success means that we certify you as a competent scholar in international relations. If we pass you, it means we believe that you could teach Introduction to International Relations, and that you could hold your own in general international relations discussions at conferences or at a job interview. Our field, our department, our university, and your peers on the job market have a vested interest in maintaining high standards.

The comprehensive exam stresses three components:

1. Theories (and empirics) from the four major areas of international relations: A. International Political Economy; B. Institutions and Global Governance; C. International Security; and D. Foreign Policy. The books on the IR reading list are divided into these areas, preceded by core books in Theory and Methodology.

2. Integration of these four areas into a coherent body of knowledge. While each of the four areas is often considered a specialization with respect to journals, dissertations, and the job market, it is also true that there is considerable overlap between the areas. Wisdom can not be compartmentalized. Wisdom grows when integrated. Although we are not testing for knowledge outside of IR, we encourage students to compare, contrast, and integrate the different subfields of political science as they study for their exams.

3. Empirical knowledge. Theories do not exist independent of historical, quantitative, current, and policy-relevant realities.

Those constructing and taking IR exams must confront the fact that there are four distinct areas, and also overlap between them. There is a grey scale or continuum between questions and answers that focus more narrowly on one of the four areas, and those that integrate across areas.

Our exams will consist of five questions, of which three must be answered in six hours. Three of the five questions will be identifiable as focusing on one of the four areas of IR. In other words, there may be one question on IPE, one on Security, and one on Institutions or Foreign Policy. Although these three questions will be focused, wise answers will bring in theories and empirics from other areas where relevant. The two remaining questions will be explicitly integrative and will ask the student to apply two or more areas of IR to a question or issue.

Almost all questions will also stress empirical support and knowledge. This was true in the past, but students were rarely held to account on this aspect. Now that there is no area question, students must bring empirics to bear when asked.