Home Graduate Doctoral Program Ph.D. Specialization Examinations

Ph.D. Specialization Examinations

In addition to the Comprehensive Exams, students are also required to pass exams in their chosen specialization. Full-time students usually take these exams at the end of the second year; part-time students at the end of the third or fourth year. Faculty members associated with each specialization determine requirements and procedures. Students should inform the specialization faculty of their intention to take the exams at least six months in advance. Faculty in turn will inform students of exam requirements and procedures and provide any additional reading lists at least three months before the exams are administered.

Requirements and Procedures

Social Policy

The Social Policy (SOC) Doctoral Examination is a two-part essay examination for which students may sit at any time after their first year in the program leading to the Ph.D. in Policy Studies but before completing a dissertation prospectus.  Students should plan to devote an eight-hour period to complete each part, in any location of their choosing. The two parts of the examination may be separated by several days or weeks. Each part of the examination is an “open book” exercise although, as with other such examinations, it is expected that a student will refrain from consulting any other person. 

Part One will consist of a question, written and graded by two professors of the Social Policy faculty, that addresses broad causal and analytic issues important to the field of social policy.  This part will be grounded in significant part, though not solely, on literature and issues covered in PLCY 734 (Foundations of Social Policy). 

Part Two will address the literature deemed broadly relevant to the student’s likely dissertation topic, a literature that the student will be responsible for defining prior to the examination.

Management, Finance and Leadership

Ph.D. students in the MFL specialization must pass two special exams before advancing to candidacy.

To prepare for the exam, it is strongly suggested that all MFL students develop a series of memos on their field of study to be shared with faculty readers. The memos would be an initial step in demonstrating competency.

MFL has two exams -- the Management and Leadership exam and the Finance and Budgeting exam. All candidates for MFL must take both exams. There will be two to three questions for each exam, and candidates must answer all questions.

It is possible for a candidate to take just one part of the MFL exam (Management and Leadership or Finance and Budgeting) if another specialization exam is also taken, of if the student and the faculty advisors agree to the scope of a second, targeted exam within MFL. If part of the specialization course work is outside of MFL, then approval by both Specialization Directors is required well in advance of the exam.

The two exams can be taken at the same time or at different times. If both parts of the exam are taken at once, then candidates should pace themselves and devote an equal amount of time to each section. Candidates will have a total of eight hours for the two exams (4 hours per exam if taken separately).

The exam is open book, open notes.

The questions will be made available to the candidate by email on the day of the exam.

University of Maryland honor code applies. There is no "proctoring" for this exam. Students are expected to work on their own. They may take a rest or meal period as they wish, consistent with finishing on time.

International Security and Economic Policy

ISEP Ph.D. students are required to take two specialization examinations.

In most cases, the exams will be in international security policy and international economic policy, respectively. Of these two, the one in the student\'s major field will require substantial additional preparation beyond what is required for PLCY 720 or 781. The other exam requirement may be satisfied, by prior agreement with the instructor, through the completion of PLCY 720 or PLCY 781 with a grade of B+ or higher.

For International Security Policy exam the candidate has to submit a reading list to John Steinbruner and then s/he will be assigned an exam question based on the reading list with an answer due within a week.

Students whose dissertations center on the foreign policy process will take an exam in that field and a second exam in either international security or international economic policy, as agreed with each student\'s principal adviser. The process exam will require substantial additional preparation beyond the work in PLCY 780.

Whatever combination of exams a given student takes, s/he will be expected to demonstrate some familiarity with both the security and the economic sides of ISEP.

Environmental Policy


ENV Ph.D. students are required to take one specialization examination. This exam will normally be taken after the general MSPP comprehensive exams. A student must pass the ENV specialization exam before submitting a dissertation prospectus.


The Environment specialization exam will allow the student to demonstrate knowledge in three broad environmental fields of study. The exam should help the student advance their thinking in anticipation of selecting and refining a dissertation topic. It is not meant to be comprehensive across all dimensions of environmental policy, but nor is it meant to be a narrow inquiry into the dissertation area. Readings could be drawn from the student\'s ENV coursework.


The ENV specialization exam will generally consist of a 6-hour in-classroom exam, closed book, with three sections of 2 hours each.


Three faculty will constitute the Examination Committee for each student. It is expected that the student\'s anticipated dissertation adviser will be a member of the Examination Committee. Students will consult with each faculty member to develop a reading list on each of the three examination fields.

Each faculty member will be responsible for:

  • vetting the proposed reading list for his/her examination field
  • approving the reading list for his/her examination field
  • writing questions for the exam
  • evaluating the written responses on the exam
  • agreeing on a pass or fail grade with the Examination Committee

Each student will be responsible for:

  • Indicating interest in taking the exam to the ENV PhD exam chair (currently Prof Hultman) one semester before the exam is to be administered
  • Identifying, in consultation with the adviser, three fields related to the student\'s research interests that will likely inform the student\'s dissertation prospectus development
  • Approaching faculty to serve on the Examination Committee
  • Ensuring that three faculty are confirmed on the Examination Committee the semester before the examination is to take place
  • With the help of their faculty advisers, constructing representative reading lists in each field, with an effort to include both foundational works and publications of recent relevance
  • Submitting reading lists to each Examination Committee member at least two week before the reading list deadline