Qualifying Exam

The Qualifying Examination (QE) process in Politics is intended to evaluate a student’s knowledge of a range of literatures, including both: a) core literatures in two of the program’s four areas of emphasis; and, b) specialized literatures needed for dissertation research. It is also intended to provide a forum to develop research questions and plans for the dissertation.

Students’ preparation for the QE process begins with their first core seminar and continues throughout the two years of coursework. The QE process itself is completed during a student's third year. It has three main parts: 1) the core literature examinations (either in the form of take-home exams or field statements); 2) the dissertation prospectus; and 3) the oral examination.

The QE timeline requires that the first of the two core literature examinations be submitted in the Fall quarter, and that the second be submitted in the Winter quarter. The prospectus and the oral exam are to be completed during the Spring quarter, thereby finishing the whole QE process by the end of the third year. This timeline ensures that students are well-positioned to apply for funding for fieldwork and other research in the fourth and fifth years. On this schedule, students are subsequently expected to complete their PhDs in five to six years.

All components of the QE process are evaluated by a QE Committee composed of four faculty members, at least two of whom must be in the Politics Department. The committee Chair must be from Politics. Each student must form this QE committee, and inform the Graduate Advisor of its members, by the end of the second year. If students fail any component of the QE process twice they cannot continue in the program.

University regulations require that paperwork be submitted in order to proceed with the QE and to advance to candidacy. Timely advancement affects students’ academic standing, financial aid opportunities, and fees. Students should therefore contact the Graduate Advisor about the paperwork to be completed and submitted to the Graduate Division when beginning the QE process and immediately after completing the process. Satisfactory progress through the QE Process is one factor the department considers it its internal funding decisions.


Examination Format

There are two ways to conduct the written examinations – as a take-home exam or as field statements. The content and goals of each are intended to be the same. Nevertheless, the formats vary as follows:

Take-Home Exams Format: 

Students who select this option complete two 72-hour take-home exams. The Core Literatures Exam is organized around questions presented by the QE Committee faculty. The Dissertation Literature Exam is focused on questions determined by the student in conversation with the QE committee. The student can decide when the 72 hour home exam takes place; however, the period must fall between the weekend before the start of the quarter (the most popular period), and the second weekend in the quarter (the latest time allowed). This schedule is designed to allow students nearly five months to work on the prospectus, which is typically defended at the end of the Spring quarter.

After each exam, the essay responses should be sent to the whole QE committee in a single email.  In about a week’s time after each essay is received, the chair is responsible for reporting the committee’s collective feedback to the student (with a cc to the graduate program coordinator), including a clear signal that it is OK to proceed to the next step in the QE process.

The aim of having a time-limit of 72 hours (rather than a specific length requirement) is not to create a high-stakes, high intensity exam experience. Instead, it is designed to provide an alternative to the dangers of over-extension and paralysis that can sometimes come with the more open-ended field statement format.  Nevertheless, for students who prefer the field statement format, it remains an option.

Field Statements Format: 

Students who select this option complete two field statements of approximately 25 double-spaced pages with a 7500-word maximum. The Core Literatures Field Statement is to be completed in Fall Quarter, and the Dissertation Literature Field Statement is to be completed in Winter Quarter, with deadlines as follows:

  • An abstract of 500 words, identifying the question to be addressed, and a preliminary argument, must be submitted to the Chair of the QE Committee one week before the start of the quarter, and approved by the Chair (after any necessary revisions) by the end of the first week of the quarter.
  • A complete draft of the field statement should be sent to the whole Committee in a single email by the end of the 6thweek of classes. Faculty have one week to return the statement with comments.
  • The completed field statement, which addresses the QE Committee members’ comments, is due by the last day of the quarter. In about a week’s time after each statement is received, the chair is responsible for reporting the committee’s collective feedback to the student (with a cc to the graduate program coordinator), including a clear signal that it is OK to proceed to the next step in the QE process.
The deadline for the completed field statement may be extended only in cases of major extenuating circumstances, with the prior written approval of each member of the QE Committee and the Director of Graduate Studies (or Department Chair, if the DGS serves on the QE Committee). In such cases, a new and final deadline will be set by the QE Chair and the DGS. Failure to obtain advance approval to extend a deadline, or to meet the revised deadline, will constitute failure of the field statement in question. Failure to submit satisfactory work within six weeks of a missed deadline will constitute a second failure of the field statement; any student who fails a field statement twice will not continue in the program.

Examination Content

Having selected one of the format options, students should notify the Graduate Advisor of their choice by the time of their second-year review. Consultation with the QE committee chair regarding the actual literatures for each examination should then begin by the summer of the second year.  Whatever format is chosen, students should complete and submit written examinations that demonstrate knowledge of scholarly literature related to: (1) two chosen core areas and (2) the dissertation project.

  1. Core Literatures Exam: For this exam students must demonstrate knowledge by developing a coherent argument that integrates readings from two of the Politics Ph.D. core areas (represented in the department’s four core graduate seminars). Students must select the two areas to be addressed, and then work closely with their QE committee chair to compile the full list of readings to be examined based on the syllabi and core area readings lists archived online in the four Core Folders (available as shared folders on google drive). The examination itself should demonstrate the student’s ability to engage andarticulate knowledge from the two chosen core literatures.
  2. Dissertation Literature Exam: For this exam students must demonstrate an ability to develop a coherent argument through a review of a broad range of literature relevant to their potential dissertation topic. The reading list is in this case compiled by the student with the advice of the QE committee chair and at least one other person on the committee. The list should speak to an issue that the student intends to address in the dissertation in ways that build on the input of the QE committee faculty. The exam itself should then show how these chosen readings frame the main dissertation focus.


The prospectus is a research and writing plan that provides the members of a student’s committee an opportunity to help the student refine a question, sharpen her or his approach, identify literatures and sources of information, and minimize the risk of research duplication. It also provides a template for funding applications.

The prospectus should be approximately 15 pages and should describe:

  • The political problem the student wishes to address.
  • The specific questions to be examined.
  • The significance of the research for larger theoretical and intellectual concerns in the study of politics, and its relation to relevant literatures.
  • The planned research strategy and methodology.
  • The principal sources that are available.
  • The qualifications or limitations that may attend the results.
  • A proposed table of contents and a bibliography.
  • A projected timetable for completing the dissertation.

Students should prepare the prospectus in consultation with members of their Committee.

All candidates for the Ph.D. must submit a dissertation prospectus by the end of their third year at UCSC. The prospectus is to be completed Spring Quarter, with deadlines as follows:

  • A complete draft of the prospectus is due to the Committee by the end of the 3rd week of classes. Committee members have one week to return the draft with comments.
  • A revised draft is due to the Committee by the end of the 6th week of classes, or two weeks before the scheduled oral examination (whichever comes first). The revised draft will be a principal topic of discussion in the oral exam.
  • Subsequent to the exam, the prospectus will be revised as needed, on the basis of comments made in the Oral Exam.
  • The revised prospectus must be approved by the Committee Chair and another Politics faculty member on the Committee, and submitted along with a completed Committee Nomination Form to the Department's Graduate Program Coordinator. These materials are due no later than the last day of Spring Quarter. 


This is a meeting of the student with the four members of the QE Committee and the proposed Dissertation Chair (if she/he is not already a member of the QE Committee). The meeting runs up to three hours and consists of two principal parts.

Part One (at least one hour) entails a review of the two field statements or take-home exams. The student reviews her or his work; the Committee members raise any unresolved questions from their initial review of the written exams and may raise additional questions pertaining to the readings, particularly those relevant to the exam topics.

Part Two of the oral exam (at least one hour) focuses on the prospectus. The candidate may be asked to elaborate on:

  • The specific questions to be examined.
  • The significance of the research for larger theoretical and political concerns in the study of politics.
  • The research strategy and/or methodology to be used.
  • The principal sources that are available.

This part of the oral exam is an opportunity for the student and committee to benefit from a frank scholarly exchange about the student’s proposed research project. Following the oral exam, the student will make necessary revisions to the prospectus before securing the necessary approval and filing it. If the exam committee decides that the student's exam was not satisfactory, then the committee chair will communicate that outcome to the DGS and Graduate Program Coordinator. The student will have the chance, in coordination with the committee chair and DGS, to schedule a second exam. In the event of a second unsatisfactory oral exam, the student can no longer continue in the doctoral program.