Comprehensive Examination

Like the Thesis and Capstone Project options, the Comprehensive Examination is the student's opportunity to demonstrate his or her understanding of the history of the United States, the ideas underlying its government, and how each effected the other. Unlike the Thesis and Capstone Project, in which the student devles deeply into a narrow aspect of history, the exam demands mastery of a broader range of events and ideas.

About the Exam

The exam is composed of five extended essay questions.  Students may then select three questions to which they will respond. Each question requires the student to think critically about people, events, political philosophies, social movements, and economic trends across American history.  Most questions refer to original documents, which may include speeches, laws, newspapers, editorials, and court decisions, among other possibilities.

Students are expected to show understanding of the topic addressed in the question; in doing so, students should also demonstrate a sophisticated analysis of both the documents provided and other sources which the student may have studied in the program. Responses should show the student's ability to think broadly and clearly about major themes in American history and government, make connections and note distinctions among important arguments and issues.

Taking the Exam

The exam may be taken once the student has completed all core and elective requirements, a total of 32 semester credit hours. The exam may be taken concurrently with the student's final course if that course is already in progress at the time the exam period begins. In no case may the exam be taken prior to the semester in which all other requirements will be complete.

The exam is offered once per semester, generally about six weeks prior to graduation. The questions are released to the student on a Friday afternoon. The student has three weekends to draft responses. Responses must be submitted by the third Monday at noon Eastern time. Exam dates for upcoming semesters may be found on the schedule webpage.

The exam may be completed from home and it is not necessary to travel to campus. There is no charge to take the exam.

Students who wish to take the exam should register to do so early in the semester during which they wish to graduate. The student will be provided with that semester's exam dates and will be provided with general expectations. The student will also be informed of where he or she may download the exam and also how the exam will be submitted. Students should also register for graduation with the university's registrar at this time.

Each student will also be assigned a member of the program faculty who will serve as his or her exam advisor. The exam advisor is available to address concerns about the exam questions, strategies for responding to the questions, advice on proper citation and avoiding plagiarism, or other curricular concerns. The exam advisor will not proofread draft responses nor will the advisor provide detailed feedback about the quality of your writing or argument. Questions related to registration, graduation, and exam submission should be referred to the program director.

Exams are graded on a Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory basis.  In the event that the student's exam is judged to be Unsatisfactory, the student may retake the exam at the next regularly scheduled administration. In the event that the student does not receive a grade of Satisfactory after the second time, the student may face dismissal from the program.

Faculty Spotlight


Marc Landy is the Edward and Louise Peterson Professor of American History and Government at Ashland University and Professor of Political Science at Boston College. With Sidney Milkis, he is the author of Presidential Greatness (2000) and a textbook, American Government: Balancing Liberty and Democracy, now in its third edition (2011). He is an author of The Environmental Protection Agency From Nixon to Clinton: Asking the Wrong Questions (1994), with Stephen Thomas. He is an editor of Creating Competitive Markets: The Politics and Economics of Regulatory Reform (2007); Seeking the Center: Politics and Policymaking at the New Century (2001); and The New Politics of Public Policy (1995). His recent articles include: "Terror and the Executive," National Affairs, Spring 2010; EPA and Nanotechnology: The Need for a Grand Bargain?, in Christopher J. Bosso, ed., Governing Uncertainty: Environmental Regulation in the Age of Nanotechnology (Washington DC: RFF Press, 2010); (Sidney Milkis, co-author), The Presidency in the Eye of the Storm, The Presidency and the Political System, Ninth Edition (2010); "Mega-Disasters and Federalism," Public Administration Review, Vol. 68, Issue 6, October 2008; and "Great Presidents are Agents of Democratic Change," in Richard Ellis and Michael Nelson, eds., Debating the Presidency, CQ Press, 2006.