Sunday, June 6, 2010

Political Analysis Comprehensive Exam

So I finally took the exams - almost two weeks ago, now. The Political Analysis exam was from 8am to 5pm on Tuesday, May 25th, and the Normative Analysis (Philosophy) was from 8:30am-5pm on Thursday, May 27th. (The difference in time is based on lunch breaks. Apparently the Politics professors thought we'd need an hour for lunch and the Philosophers only thought we'd need a half-hour.) The exam is an at-home, essay exam. They email it to everyone at the designated start time, you write furiously for 8+ hours, and then you email it back at the deadline. (I think I sent in political at 4:49 and normative at 5:02.) I've been studying for these exams for about 5 months, and it's taken up almost every free moment I had. I read all but one of the 17 assigned political analysis books, almost all of the more than 50 philosophy readings, took notes on them, wrote summaries of most (which you saw on this blog!), had three-hour weekly discussion meetings with Anya and Elnigar, and took an independent study course this semester.

I can't post the answers to my exams, because I wrote about 20-30 pages single-spaced for each of the two exams. However, I thought I'd post the questions to give you an idea of what the exam was like.

On the political analysis exam, you are given four questions, but you only have to answer two. The two I chose were:

QUESTION ONE: Select a policy problem or issue with which you are already well-acquainted that currently confronts any national or sub-national government. Write an essay exploring how any readings you have done about political institutions and systems (that is, readings about: specific institutions and systems; the kinds of challenges institutions and systems face; the successes and failures they experience; and the alternative models or modes of analysis one may apply to them) help you to diagnose: (a) the origins and character of the problem or issue, and (b) the opportunities and constraints that appear relevant to managing the problem or issue.

[To answer this question, I wrote about the issue human spaceflight. There's a lot going on in this area right now with the looming gap in U.S. human spaceflight capability (after the shuttle retires, we'll have to rely on the Russian's for a while, at least), and the new, very different, human spaceflight policy included in the President's budget. I analyzed the issue using Kingdon's "three streams" Model, where he looks at how a problem, policy solution, and political opportunity all come together. Then I used the three models presented by Graham Allison. I also looked at it using a Rational Actor model, which thinks of how you'd solve the problem if the U.S. was just one person, making a strategic decision. I analyzed it using the Organizational Model - looking at Arnold's theory about how Congress thinks about issues - and Wilson's theory about how Bureaucracy works. Finally, I analyzed it using the Government Politics model, which looks at the individuals involved and the decision-making processes to understand why particular decisions were made.]

QUESTION THREE: A simple “civics textbook” portrait might suggest that representative political process moves easily and productively through the following three stages: (1) the generation of interests and beliefs within the mass public; (2) carefully considered legislative policy responses by elected officials; (3) policy implementation by administrative agencies.  Draw on any readings you have done (but without resorting to extensive quotation) to amplify (and, if necessary, to correct) this portrait of representative government.

[For this question, I basically went through each of the books we've read and explained what portion of this they supported, and what was more complicated. I noted that Kingdon argues that the process is not linear (but rather is made up of three simultaneous "streams"). Then I went through each of the three to give examples of what's right and wrong. For example, (1) the generation of interests and beliefs of the mass public is addressed in "Rational Public" which argues that public opinion as a whole is rational, but also that it can be manipulated. Or Shepsle and Mayer, who both talk about the issue of "rational ignorance" - that it may not actually be logical for people to spend time learning all the facts of every issue, given that they can not have that much of an effect on the outcome. This can lead to a reliance on symbolism, or just general ignorance of the issues.]

No comments: