Sociology Department


About the Final Step
in Earning your MA at CSULA


Students choosing the comprehensive examination (comps)
option for the M.A. degree in Sociology are required to pass three sociology
exams, one in each of the following areas:

Theory, Research Methods, and an elective. This document is
meant to provide practical information and a guide to preparing for the
comps.  Sample exam questions for each
exam are posted on the sociology department web site.


Overview- Focus and Orientation


Students demonstrate through their comprehensive exams that
they have left their strictly student status behind and are now early-stage
professionals. This is a key concept in understanding the proper approach to
the comps.


The comps are set apart from all other work normally
undertaken by MA students. The student is moving beyond providing a summary
end-point piece of work for a course or two. It is through the comps that students demonstrate that they have the
background, knowledge, and sophistication in sociology that would allow them to
teach, consult, compete for grants, or design and undertake contracted
For this reason, comp exams committee members expect to see
students demonstrate many aspects of professional attainment in their answers,


1. The appropriate use of professional terms.


2. Identification of key
to the field and correct reference to them as
warranted in the answers.


3 A broad understanding of the major theoretical foundation/methodological approaches relevant to the
specified sociological area.


4. Ability to focus
on an issue
and to draw on and apply
relevant concepts, approaches, paradigms, and theories


5, Ability to integrate
the body of knowledge
in a thoughtful, penetrating, and relatively sophisticated treatment of the issue(s)
under discussion.


The comps are not about the ability to “just” answer
questions. Rather, the process is more like demonstrating the capacity to develop lecture material or
contribute well-grounded and original thinking
around an issue or to take a
significant role when engaged in problem
. This is why simply receiving grades of “A’ in your 500- level
seminars is not, in itself, a guarantee that you are fully prepared to take the

In demonstrating your competence as a new professional, you
need to take active responsibility
for the finishing steps in your own education. This means that you must make
the intellectual and practical effort required to integrate your
from these courses and to follow-up by reading the
relevant sociological literature
in order to be able to fully grasp the
significance of the theories, paradigms, and approaches. Beyond this, you must
be able to comfortably use and apply the intellectual and practical tools of
your profession


Your goals are:


1. to have acquired the requisite body of knowledge;

2. to recognize the concepts and dynamics outside of the

3. to be able to apply sociological concepts and approaches
to illuminate given issues in societal and human organization and interaction;

4. to understand how to unfold and investigate such issues
in conceptual/theoretical light; and

5. to be able to choose and apply the appropriate research
methodology to further such investigations.


The comps are the means by which your established colleagues
(the professors grading the comps) assess whether or not you have achieved
these goals.


Preparing for the
Comprehensive Exams


Specifically in terms of the comps, the depth of treatment
is important to practice before taking the exams. This is why the questions
that have been posed on previous comprehensive exams are available to
students.  The optimum way of proceeding
is to download these questions prior
to taking any of the graduate level seminars. Students should make their best
effort at writing a draft response to the questions. An ongoing process of
continual revision should take place as a student reads and participates in
classes. This should include incorporating more and more of what is discussed across classes. Students should also be
thinking about the nature of these
questions. Again, although the questions change with each administering of the
comps, the type of thought,
treatment, and body of knowledge; however, remains fairly consistent.


Testing Schedule


Comps are offered once in the Fall and once in the Spring.
Students who are in good standing and have completed
all course work, or who will be completing their course work in the same
as the comprehensive examinations need to get a permit to

enroll in the
comps from the department office. Once the permit is entered, they enroll in
Soc 596 in the same manner as they would enroll in any other course.


The three examinations are given two weeks apart:


Week 5. Thursday, :

Week 7. Thursday, :

Week 9. Thursday, :




Prerequisites are as follows:


Theory comps


Soc 412 and Soc 414 (or equivalent senior/early graduate
courses in classical and contemporary theory); and

Soc 512 and Soc 514, graduate seminars in classical theory
and contemporary theory.


Methods comps


Soc 210A and Soc 210B (or equivalent elementary statistics);

Soc 410 (advanced statistics);

Soc 390 (or the equivalent undergraduate research methods

Soc 490 and 491 (advanced quantitative and qualitative
methods); and

Soc 590 (graduate seminar in research methods).


Elective comps


Student may choose any one elective graduate seminar
(500-level course) completed for their elective area exam.  When possible, students should choose an
elective area in which they have had at least two courses (one at the 400-level
and one at the 500-level).


Testing Process


Generally, students will be expected to answer from 3-5
essay-style questions on each of the comprehensive exams. The theory and the
methods exams are set up to provide students a choice among questions in each
of several categories. The breakdown is roughly the same each quarter and can
be expected to more-or-less follow this guideline:



Section I=        choice
of questions on classical theory

Section II=       choice
of questions on contemporary theory

Section III= choice of questions asking for an application
of theory to explain some social phenomenon.


Methods (both
quantitative and qualitative):

Section I=        choice
of questions on study design

Section II= choice of questions of specifics of different
methodological tools

Section III= choice of questions on statistics


Notes and other study aids are not allowed.  However, students may use calculators.


The questions are newly composed for each testing quarter;
however, they do not differ in fundamental ways from quarter to quarter.
Previous questions are posted on the department website at: /academic/soc/MA.htm
and are kept in a notebook available to students in the department office.  A good strategy in preparing for the exam is
to make copies of these questions and to use them as study aids while taking
the relevant classes and when reading sociological material.


Students are allowed 5 hours to work on each of the exams.
This time period allows for resting between questions, organizing oneÂ’s
thoughts, and so forth. Even so, the length of time allotted is an indication
of the care and depth of though expected on these exams. Be careful to provide
coverage and depth; do NOT simply become repetitive. 


All of the exams are administered in a computer lab on
campus.  Students should take the time to
read over their answers and revise them appropriately.


A committee of three faculty members collaborate on the exam
questions. This process guarantees that the choice of questions is truly
representative of the area and is not overly influenced by any one professorÂ’s
approach or emphasis. The same three faculty members independently grade the
exams without knowing which students have written the exam answers. They then
turn in their grades to the chair of the committee. This blind grading
procedure has been established to guarantee objectivity. (When only one student
is taking the exam, this blind procedure may not be feasible.) The examination
committees are constituted early in the fall and spring quarters.  Students are encouraged to talk to the
various committee members prior to taking the exam.


Grading Procedures


Failing One or More of the Comprehensive Exams


The three exams are graded separately, so to pass the
comprehensive exams, students need to earn a “pass” in each of the three. A
student may pass even when failing to answer one question adequately, if
answers to remaining questions on that particular

comprehensive exam are strong enough. A student who answers
two of the questions on a single exam inadequately, will most likely fail that
exam. In order to fail an exam, at least 2 of the 3 graders have to agree that
the work was not adequate to pass.


A student who fails one or more of the areas of the
comprehensive examinations is allowed to retake the failed exam(s) in another
testing quarter. This provides more than one quarter to study. A student who
fails one or more of the exams two times will not earn the MA degree from