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Comprehensive Exam

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Comprehensive Examination

The Master of Arts in International Relations program is a non-thesis degree program. All MAIR students are required to complete a comprehensive examination at the end of their degree to demonstrate their mastery of the field of International Relations.

When to apply for exams:

  • 1/24 – 3/15 for FALL semester exam
  • 7/17 – 9/15 for SPRING semester exam
  • 12/17 – 2/15 for SUMMER semester exam

Available dates to begin 30-day exam period:

            FALL                 September 15 - 30

            SPRING             January 15 - 31

            SUMMER           June 1 - 17

Effective with Summer 2022 exams, the MAIR program is moving to a new comprehensive exam structure. The new structure will consist of a single exam question that integrates learning and knowledge from all of your coursework in the MAIR program. The exam will allow you to choose between two questions. Each question will offer substantial scope for you to draw on thematic and regional areas of strength for your analysis. At the same time, questions will provide sufficient guidance for you to have clarity on how to proceed as you draft your response.

Your answer should be at least 2500-3000 words (10-12 pages). However, length by itself is not a criterion for a passing exam. Be sure to address the questions directly and thoroughly, citing all sources not only for quotations (which should be kept to a minimum), but also for ideas and arguments. Students can use any accepted citation style, such as APA, Chicago, or Harvard style parenthetical notation, provided all sources are cited appropriately and consistently throughout each essay. Exams are administered via Canvas.

You will have 4 weeks to complete the exam. Each exam will be graded by a team of three faculty members. As Graduate College rules stipulate, two of three graders must agree for an exam to achieve a passing grade. In the event of a non-passing exam, students will continue to have the opportunity to repeat the exam once in a subsequent semester and with a different exam question.

Reminder: Students should check their OU email accounts regularly for official correspondence.

The majority of a student’s coursework (6 out of 11 courses) MUST be completed, with a posted grade, when the Program of Study (POS) is submitted for review. If coursework from previous semester has not been completed, or grades have not been posted, the student’s POS will be held for review until grades for the previous semester have been posted.

Degree candidates MUST meet the following eligibility requirements by the start of their exam semester:

  • At least 75% of coursework listed (9 out of 11 courses) on a student’s Program of Study MUST be completed, with posted grades.
  • 6 out of 7 courses from the core and substantive areas MUST be completed.
  • No Incomplete (I) or Neutral (N) grades may be outstanding.
  • Student must be in good academic standing, with a GPA of 3.0 or better.

Students must be enrolled in at least 2 OU credit hours during the semester that they take their exams.

To best prepare for success in the examination process, students are advised to save an elective course to take during the semester of their exams. Students are advised to complete their research methods, core area and all substantive area courses prior to their exam semester. Additionally, it is not recommended to take more than two courses during one’s exam semester.

Overage Credits:

Credit that is older than five years at the time of graduation is considered to be overage. No more than 25 percent of the total credit hours (two courses) required for the master’s degree can be more than five years old at the time of graduation. Overage transfer credit cannot be applied to the master’s degree. If you are concerned about having overage credits, contact the MAIR program. Contact the office early, as the process for petitioning for the approval of additional overage credit may delay preparations for your exams.

(Graduate College Bulletin 7.1.5)

Students who meet the above eligibility requirements may apply for master’s candidacy by submitting a final Program of Study (POS). Once a POS form has been completed, typed and signed, the form should then be submitted to the MAIR office (, along with a requested start date based on available dates above.

Program of Study form (PDF)

Comprehensive examinations are created based upon the courses that are listed within the core and substantive areas on a student’s POS. Testable areas include:

  • Politics, Government and Security
  • Identity, Culture and Communication
  • Economics, the Environment and Geography
  • Regions, Nations and History

To determine where courses count within the MAIR degree, visit the “Course Offerings” tab. All MAIR courses are title-specific. Some courses that have the same course number, but different course titles, may not count within the same degree area.

POS forms should be COMPLETE. A form is considered complete when all courses needed to complete the degree are listed. The marking of “TBA” for a course is not allowed. If not enrolled in a final course yet, a student should list the course that he/she plans to take to complete the degree. All courses listed should include: Course Number, Course Name, Instructor Name, Grade and Semester & Year.

If any the information (courses, grades, etc.) submitted on your POS form changes, please email those changes to the MAIR office at in the following format:

Delete from core
PSC 5123 The Making of American Foreign Policy FA 11    (professor's name)

Add to core 
IAS 5213 Politics of European Union SP 12    (professor's name)

Dual Degree Students

Students pursuing a dual degree must file the Program of Study form for each program in the Graduate College simultaneously. Eligibility requirements for both degrees must be met at time of POS submission. All forms must be approved by the Graduate College before the student will be authorized to begin the non-thesis examination or thesis defense for either program.

(Graduate College Bulletin

Comprehensive exams are sent to graders at the end of the exam submission period each semester. Graders receive all exams that they are responsible for grading at the same time. Choosing an earlier date to begin exams does not mean that you will receive results faster than others. It can take 30-45 days from the end of the end of the submission period for students to receive official results about their exams. Official results are sent once the MAIR office has received grades for both exam questions.

Comprehensive exams are graded as Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory. A student must receive a grade of satisfactory on both exam questions to receive a grade of satisfactory on the comprehensive exam.

A student has failed the first attempt of the comprehensive exams may attempt the exam a second time.

If student receives an UNSATISFACTORY evaluation on one or both question(s), he/she will be retested on a different question(s) from both the Core and Substantive area. The examination may not be taken a third time. If a student fails the second attempt, the student will be disenrolled from the Graduate College, and the student’s candidacy for the MAIR degree will be terminated.

The results of comprehensive exams are only valid for two consecutive years from the date of completion.

(Graduate College Bulletin 7.3.1 –