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California State University, Long Beach
Department of Criminal Justice

Graduate Examinations

  • The Qualifying Examination

    Regardless of whether a student plans to write a thesis or take the comprehensive examination as his/her/their capstone experience, all students must take and pass the qualifying examination (also known as the “qualifier”) in order to advance to candidacy. 

     

    • Qualifying Exam Eligibility – To be eligible to take the Qualifying Examination, the student must:
      • Be duly-enrolled at CSULB in the Master of Science program in Criminology and Criminal Justice;
      • Not be academically disqualified or on academic probation;
      • Not currently be on an educational leave;
      • Have passed or is passing with a B or higher, CRJU 504, CRJU 520, and CRJU 525; and
        •  “Advanced to candidacy” prior to taking this exam, but their cumulative grade point average fell below a 3.00

    Or

        • Failed to maintain continuous enrollment in courses or in GS 700;

    Or

        • Completed the coursework required to “advance to candidacy” with a GPA of 3.00 or higher and successful completion of this exam will enable them to “advance to candidacy.”
      • Register for the Qualifying Exam by your Graduate Advisor (Traditional: Dr. Dina Perrone Dina.Perrone@csulb.edu; Online: Dr. Aili Malm: Aili.Malm@csulb.edu)

     

     

    • Structure and Composition of the Exam – The qualifier is comprised of between 120 and 150 multiple-choice questions.  It tests three subjects:  criminological theory (CRJU 504), criminal justice research methods (CRJU 520), and applied statistics in criminal justice (CRJU 525).  The qualifying exam is administered over the course of three hours.  Here is the approximate breakdown of questions:

     

    Table 1:  Structure of Multiple-Choice Qualifying Examination

     

    Criminological Theory

    Research Methods

    Statistics

    70-75 Questions

    30-35 Questions

    20-25 Questions

    Approximately 57%
    of Exam

    Approximately 25%
    of Exam

    Approximately 18%
    of Exam

     

    Everything tested on the multiple-choice qualifying examination should have been covered in CRJU 504, CRJU 520, and CRJU 525.  In fact, the textbooks used in those three courses should be all most students need in order to prepare for the qualifier. 

     

    • Timing of the Exam – The qualifying examination is administered at different times depending upon whether students are in the traditional M.S. program or the M.S.-Online program.

     

    • Traditional M.S. Students – Because all traditional graduate students take CRJU 504 and CRJU 520 in the fall semester of their first year of graduate study, and then take CRJU 525 in the spring semester of their first year of graduate study, all traditional graduate students are expected to take the qualifying examination at the end of their first year in the master’s program (usually in May). 

     

    Students who pass the qualifying examination and who have also successfully completed CRJU 501 during their first year of traditional study (see roadmap on page 27) will then “advance to candidacy” (see Part 6).  Students who fail the qualifier will be permitted to continue taking courses and have the opportunity to take all areas of the qualifier a second time.  If passed the second time around, students will then advance to candidacy (provided they have also successfully completed CRJU 501 and have a 3.0 GPA).  Any student who fails the qualifier on the second attempt, however, will be disqualified from the M.S. program. 

     

    • Online M.S. Students – Students in the M.S.-Online program will take the qualifier as soon as practicable after completing CRJU 504, CRJU 520, and CRJU 525.  That should be approximately one year after the start of a new cohort. Students who pass the qualifying examination will be advanced to candidacy after they successfully complete CRJU 530 (unless waived).  Students who fail the qualifier will be permitted to continue taking courses in the M.S.-Online program while studying to retake the qualifier.  If the student passes the qualifying exam the second time around, he/she/they will then advance to candidacy (after completing CRJU 501 and CRJU 530).  If, however, a student fails the qualifier on the second attempt, he/she/they will be disqualified from the M.S.-Online program. 

     

    • Grading – The qualifier is graded on a pass/fail basis.  We expect students to be able to earn a 70% in each of the areas and overall the exam.  We may, however, adjust for exam difficulty by converting raw scores on an exam to standardized Z scores.  (If you do not know what a Z score is, you need to study your statistics before taking the qualifying exam.)  Thus, we may “curve” the test to a certain degree if it appears one version of the test was considerably more difficult than another.  In most instances, students who score within a standard deviation of the mean generally pass the test.  Students who score more than one standard deviation below the mean usually fail the exam. 

     

    • Pass Rate – To date, our pass rates have been quite high.  As illustrated in Table 2, over 75.0% of all students who have taken the qualifier have passed it since we first administered the exam in the spring of 2008.  Moreover, the pass rate increases when retests are taken into account.  Specifically, of the people who failed the qualifying exam the first time and then retook the exam for a second time, only 14 students of 212 (6.6%) failed the exam a second time.  That, of course, means that 93.4% of master’s students pass the qualifier within the two attempts they are permitted.

     

    • Table 2:  Qualifying Exam Pass Rates

     

    Date

    Students Passing Qualifying Exam

    May 2008

    41 of 49 (84%)

    December 2008

    27 of 29 (93%)

    February 2009

    18 of 19 (95%)

    May 2009

    11 of 22 (50%)

    December 2009

    12 of 23 (52%)

    May 2010

    28 of 35 (80%)

    December 2010

    4 of 11 (36.4%)

    May 2011

    5 of 11 (45.5%)

    May 2012

    6 of 6 (100%)

    May 2013

    7 of 7 (100%)

    May 2014

    6 of 7 (86%)

    May 2015

    3 of 5 (60%)

    December 2015

    1 of 2 (50%

    May 2016

    9 of 12 (75%)

    December 2016

    1 of 1 (100%)

    May 2017

    8 of 10 (80%)

    August 2017

    1 of 1 (100%)

    May 2018

    10/11 (91%)

    Totals

    199 of 261 (76%)

     

  • Who Should Take the Comprehensive Examination?

    The comprehensive examination (also known as “the comp”) is the default capstone experience for all graduate students.  In other words, the overwhelming majority of master’s candidates will complete their degrees by taking and passing the comprehensive exam, not by writing a thesis.  In fact, given the nature of the online master’s program, all M.S.-Online students are strongly encouraged to take and pass the comprehensive exam as the culminating experience for their degrees.  Traditional students in the on-campus M.S. program are also expected to complete their degrees by taking and passing the comprehensive exam unless they secure a committee of three faculty members (one of whom must agree to serve as a thesis committee chair) who are willing to spend a year supervising them in researching and writing a thesis (see Section 8.5).

     

    Students must enroll in CRJU 695 in preparation for the comprehensive examination. Students may not take the comprehensive examination unless they have been advanced to candidacy for the master's degree or unless advancement to candidacy will occur in the semester prior to semester in which the exam takes place.

     

    Students must register for the Comprehensive Exam by contacting their Graduate Advisor (Traditional: Dr. Dina Perrone Dina.Perrone@csulb.edu; Online: Dr. Aili Malm: Aili.Malm@csulb.edu)

     

    Content and Format of the Comprehensive Exam

      • Faculty Design and Score Exam –The comprehensive examination provides an opportunity for the master's degree candidate to demonstrate analytic ability and knowledge of the discipline. With this purpose in mind, and per University Policy 12-04, School of Criminology, Criminal Justice, and Emergency Management faculty members prepare the comprehensive examination questions and score the results.

     

      • Evolving Nature of the Exam – The comprehensive examination may be written or oral or both.  The specific parameters of the exam often evolve to meet student needs, program learning goals, or pedagogical advancements.  Thus, the substance and structure of the exam may vary from that which is provided in this section of the Graduate Student Handbook.  Nothing contained in Section 7.2 of this Handbook is meant to concretize the format of the exam in a manner which binds the School of Criminology, Criminal Justice, and Emergency Management in any way.  In other words, the actual exam content, format, and timeline may vary from the guidelines specified herein.

     

      • Sample Format – With the disclaimer specified above in Section 7.2(B) in mind, we offer the following example to illustrate the typical format of the comprehensive examination in criminology & criminal justice.  Typically, the exam is an all-essay test comprised of three questions—two on justice policy matters (of which each student selects one question) and one on the student’s substantive area of specialization (to which each student must respond).

     

        • Justice Policy Questions – Students will be presented two questions concerning criminal justice policy related to the materials covered in CRJU 535: Justice Policy.  The CRJU 535 syllabus and assigned readings act as a reading list for the questions.  Often, the questions will be related to news-related topics.  Students must write an essay response to one of the two questions.  In other words, students have the option to select whichever question on which they feel most comfortable writing. 

     

        • Area of Specialization Question – Students have seven areas from which to choose: (1) policing, (2) corrections and reentry, (3) crime and inequality (race, gender, and sexual orientation issues), (4) law and social control, (5) drugs and crime, (6) crime and mental illness, and (7) juvenile delinquency and juvenile justice. 

     

    Table 3:  Typical Structure of Essay Exam

     

     

    Structure

    Topic

    Question #1 &

    Question # 2

    Answer either one of the two questions

    Drawn from readings in
    CRJU 535: Justice Policy

    Question #3

    Mandatory

    Question focuses on students’ self-selected topic based on the customized reading list approved by the Graduate Committee

     

     

      • Typical Timeline – The comprehensive examination format and timelines may change in response to student feedback and pedagogical needs identified by the Graduate Committee.  In this case, students will be notified of such changes as early as possible.  The following, however, should serve as a rough estimate of the sequence and timing of both student and faculty responsibilities.

     

        • Topic Selection and ApprovalOne month prior to the last day of classes in the semester prior to the comprehensive exam, students must select one of the seven areas on which to write the second comprehensive examination essay.  Students must submit the topic in MSWord in APA format with the scope of study (any subarea within the topic or specific question), two peer-reviewed journal articles, and one newspaper or magazine article relevant to the area selected to the Graduate Advisor.  Students are advised to steer clear of topics that are overly theoretical.  Rather, students should select discrete topics with “real world” application, such as evaluation research on evidence-based best practices, policy critiques, clinical studies with implications for the practice of the justice professions, criminal justice problem-solving, and similar applied topics.  Students intending to write the comprehensive exam in the same broad topic area are encouraged to work together to select a topic within that area on which all students feel reasonably comfortable.

     

        • Before the final day of classes in the semester prior to the comprehensive exam, the Graduate Advisor will contact each student intending to take the comprehensive examination and place all students intending to take the comprehensive examination in the same area together in a working group.  If student topics do not overlap, then no working group will be created.  The student and/or working group must develop a customized reading list in MSWord in APA format containing a minimum of 15 peer-reviewed sources and at least two sources from popular culture (e.g., newspapers or magazine articles) relevant to the topic selected and approved by the Graduate Advisor.  The sources must be credible, include both seminal and current works, and cover legal issues, findings, theory, and policy implications, as is relevant to the topic.  The reading lists should demonstrate both breadth and depth of the topic.  Students are strongly encouraged to develop the customized reading list over the semester break.  Students must submit a finalized draft of the reading list in APA format to the Graduate Advisor and topic readers no later than the first Friday of the semester they are taking the comprehensive exam. The student must be enrolled in CRJU 695 the semester they are taking the comprehensive exam.

     

    2.     Finalization of Reading lists – Within the first two or three weeks of the semester the student is taking the comprehensive exam, the faculty member(s) specialized in the area will review all proposed reading lists and make any modifications deemed necessary.  Finalized reading lists approved will be emailed to all graduate students no later than the end of the fourth week of the semester the student is taking the comprehensive exam, thereby giving students approximately three months to study for the comprehensive examination using the finalized reading lists.

     

    • Exam Day – The exam will be taken in a designated room on computers either provided by the Graduate Advisor or in a computer lab.  The Graduate Advisor will notify students with one week advanced notice of the exam location.  In no less than 72 hours prior to the date and time of the exam, students shall email their finalized and complete reference lists (one for the policy and one for the specialization question) to the Graduate Advisor. Students do not need to memorize sources.   Individualized exam questions and the submitted reference list will be on a flash drive provided by the Graduate Advisor.  Students will save their exam responses on that flash drive.  Students have four hours to complete the exam.

     

    Timing of the Comprehensive Exam

    The comprehensive examination is administered at different times depending upon whether students are in the traditional M.S. program or the M.S.-Online program.

     

    • Traditional M.S. Students – All traditional graduate students are expected to take the comprehensive examination at the end of their second year in the master’s program (usually in May). 

     

    Students who pass the comprehensive examination and who also successfully complete the course requirements (see roadmap on page 26) are eligible to graduate (see Part 9).  Students who fail the comprehensive examination will be permitted to enroll in G S 700 while preparing to retake the exam a second time (see Sections 5.21 and 7.7).  If passed the second time around, students are eligible to graduate (provided they have also successfully completed their coursework).  Any student who fails the comprehensive exam on the second attempt, however, will be disqualified from the M.S. program. 

     

    • M.S.-Online Students – Students in the M.S.-Online program will take the comprehensive exam as soon as practicable after completing the requisite courses.  That should be at the end of their sixth semester of study. Students who pass the comprehensive examination and who also successfully complete the course requirements are eligible to graduate.  Students who fail the comprehensive examination will be permitted to enroll in G S 700 while preparing to retake the exam.  If the student passes the comprehensive exam on the second attempt, he/she/they is eligible to graduate (after completing all coursework).  If, however, a student fails the comprehensive exam on the second attempt, he/she/they will be disqualified from the M.S.-Online program. 

    Grading of the Comprehensive Exam

    The essay portion of the comprehensive exam is graded on a pass/fail basis.  Two members of the faculty read and score each essay response.  The faculty members who grade the essays have expertise in the relevant substantive (e.g., corrections questions are graded by faculty members with expertise in corrections; policing essays are graded by faculty members with expertise in policing, etc.).  If both graders determine that a student’s essays warrant a “pass,” then the student passes the exam.  Conversely, if both graders determine that the student’s essays warrant a “fail,” then the student fails the exam.  If there is a split decision (i.e., one grader passes the student and the other grader fails the student), then a third faculty member reads the responses and casts the tie-breaking vote. 

     

    Pass Rate for the Comprehensive Exam

    To date, our pass rates have been quite high.  As illustrated in Table 4, 70.9% of all students who have taken the comprehensive exam have passed it.  Moreover, the pass rate increases when retests are taken into account.  Specifically, of the people who failed the comprehensive exam the first time and then retook the exam for a second time, only 15 students (7.5%) failed the comprehensive exam a second time.  That, of course, means that 92.5% of master’s students pass the comprehensive examination within the two attempts they are permitted.

     

    Table 4:  Comprehensive Exam Pass Rates

     

    Date

    Students Passing Essay

    May 2008

    37 of 49 (76%)

    December 2008

    25 of 28 (89%)

    February 2009

    14 of 19 (74%)

    May 2009

    8 of 14 (57%)

    May 2010

    33 of 49 (67%)

    December 2010

    2 of 13 (15.4%)

    May 2011

    7 of 8 (87.5%)

    May 2012

    6 of 7 (85.7%)

    May 2013

    1 of 2 (50.0%)

    December 2013

    1 of 2 (50%)

    May 2014

    3 of 3 (100%)

    July 2015

    0 of 1 (0%)

    December 2015

    1 of 1 (100%)

    December 2017

    3 of 3 (100%)

    May 2018

    2 of 2 (100%)

    Totals

    143 of 201 (71.1%)

     

    Tips for Passing the Comprehensive Exam

    After studying the essay responses of the students who have failed the comprehensive exam over all test administrations, the members of the Graduate Committee have discerned a pattern.  Nearly every person who failed the comprehensive exam shared one or more of the following four major shortcomings:

     

    • They failed to respond to all parts of the question.  For example, a question may have two or three subparts, all of which must be addressed in students’ essay responses.  Omitting responses to even just one of the subparts of a question is a sure-fire way to fail the exam.

     

    • They failed to integrate the literature in a meaningful way.  For example, several students wrote full responses to all subparts of an essay question, but they did so without integrating most of the literature on the reading list.  Indeed, some used only three to five of the assigned articles, while others who failed did not cite any literature whatsoever! Alternatively, others relied only on a single textbook and/or some classic citations from leading studies that were old without regard to integrating a sufficient amount of recent literature contained on the applicable reading lists.  Nearly three-quarters of the students who have failed the essay exam fall into this category.  The members of the Graduate Committee devote considerable time and care into preparing the reading lists.  We expect that students will actually do the assigned reading and integrate most of the assigned articles on the reading lists into their essay responses.  Failing to do so by synthesizing the relevant literature into your essay answers is yet another sure-fire way to fail the comprehensive exam.

     

    • They failed to explain their responses in reasonable detail.  Some students have, for inexplicable reasons, written a page or two and nothing more.  The types of questions that we ask on the essay portion of the comprehensive exam call for more in-depth answers than a paragraph or two in response to each subpart of an essay question.  Students have roughly four hours to write responses to two essay questions.  While quality of the responses is certainly more important than the length of essay responses, it is safe to say that high-quality responses will consist of several pages of writing, perhaps six to ten double-spaced pages per essay.  Students who write only two, three, or four pages per essay are unlikely to have evidenced significant breadth and depth in their responses to warrant a “pass” on a master’s level comprehensive exam.

     

    • They failed to structure their responses into a well-organized and well-written essay.  To be clear, we do not expect our master’s students to write flawless essays under stressful testing conditions.  We do expect, however, that the essays will be written well enough that they evidence a reasonable command of the English language.  We have failed a very small percentage of students whose essays were nearly incomprehensible.  We are not talking about dangling participles, split infinitives, or grammar errors such as confusing “who” and “whom.”  Rather, we have failed people: who wrote run-on “sentences” that ran a page or more; who wrote essays full of “sentences” that lacked subjects and verbs; or whose essays lacked any semblance of a paragraph and/or organizational structure.  We cannot, in good conscience, graduate people with master’s degrees who cannot write a few pages clearly enough so that readers of their work understand what they are trying to communicate. 

     

    In short, if you do the reading and integrate it into essays that are fully responsive to all parts of the questions posed, and you run a grammar and spell-check on your essays before submitting them, there is really no reason why you should not pass the comprehensive exam.

    Consequence of Failing the Comprehensive Exam

    • Failing on the First Attempt – Students, who fail the comprehensive exam the first time they take it, are permitted to take the next round of comprehensive exams.  In other words, students who fail on their initial attempt are given the opportunity to try passing the exam a second time.  However, failing the exam will delay graduation for at least one semester during which the processes and timelines outlined above in Section 7.2 will be adapted for administration of a second comprehensive exam. 

     

    • Failing on the Second Attempt – If a student fails the comprehensive exam a second time, he/she/they will be dismissed from the program.  Such students neither may attempt the comprehensive exam a third time nor switch to writing a thesis.