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Candidacy exams


You must pass candidacy exams in 2 fields of political science. You’ll enroll in POLI 693 (Candidacy Examinations) while you prepare for them. Each candidacy exam consists of a written exam followed by an oral exam.

Candidacy exams give you a broad understanding of the literature and issues in the discipline. Preparation will expose you to concepts in different areas of political science and prepare you for teaching competence in your chosen fields.

The exams are meant to be generalist, in contrast with the specialization of your dissertation research and graduate course work.

We offer exams in 4 fields of political science:

  • Canadian politics
  • comparative politics
  • international relations
  • political theory

And 2 interdisciplinary fields:

  • Indigenous Nationhood
  • Cultural, Social and Political Thought (CSPT)

Students usually complete a field seminar in each of the areas in which they will write a candidacy exam. Preparation for candidacy exams includes reading the set list of readings for each field and is normally the focus of your time between the end of spring term of your first year and end of spring term of your second year.

All candidacy exams include a written exam followed by an oral exam within 2 weeks focusing on your knowledge of the assigned reading list. We’ll assess your exam on both the written and oral components. If you need to retake your candidacy exam, a retake of both portions will be allowed within 2-4 weeks or in the following term.

Interdisciplinary comprehensive exams

If you’re enrolled in the interdisciplinary CSPT program or the Certificate in Indigenous Nationhood, you must take the candidacy exam associated with that program and the second in one of the following fields:

  • Canadian politics
  • comparative politics
  • international relations
  • political theory


You must complete both exams within 2 years of registering in the PhD program. Students normally take their exams during the second year of their program. You must give written notice to the graduate advisor of your intention to write.

Fall exam: held from the beginning of the first week to the end of the third week in October. Notice must be received by May 1.

Spring exam: held from the beginning of the first week to the end of the third week in March. Notice must be received by November 1.

Reading list

Each field prepares its own reading list for the candidacy exam in that field. The field coordinator will provide you with the list, along with the names of the members of your examining committee members within 2 weeks of the exam notification date (May 1 for Fall and November 1 for Spring).

You’ll meet with the field coordinator to discuss and answer any questions you may have about the reading list, and we highly recommend meeting with all of the examining committee members during your preparation period.

Exam procedures

You can choose a 5-hour sit-down exam or a 72-hour take-home exam for one or both of your candidacy exams. This will be followed by an oral exam scheduled within 2 weeks of the written portion.

5-hour sit-down exam

We’ll give you the questions for the written portion of the exam 24 hours in advance. It will consist of at least 6 questions. Depending on which field you choose to write your candidacy exams, you’ll be required to answer 3 or 4 questions.

72-hour take-home exam

The procedures are the same as those for the sit-down exam except the following:

  • the 72-hour writing period begins as soon as you’re given the exam
  • you must save the exam to a flash drive and to your own computer
  • you need to save your writing frequently through the 72-hour period
  • you may consult other materials but must follow the university’s academic integrity policy
  • you must not seek or receive advice from anyone about the exam or matters related to it during the 72-hour writing period
  • each answer must be no less than 2,000 and no more than 3,000 words