MPA Exam

Each candidate for the MPA degree must pass a two-part examination process.  The first part of the examination process depends on whether the student has selected the internship or thesis option.  For students selecting the internship option, the first part of the examination entails the successful completion of the Proseminar in Public Administration (GOVT 519) with a grade of B- or higher.  For individuals selecting the thesis option, the first part involves the writing of a thesis that meets with the preliminary approval of the thesis committee.


The second part of the examination process, required of all students, is the taking of a final written examination.  The written examination is designed to evaluate a candidate’s understanding of the concepts, scope and methods of public administration as both an academic discipline and a public service vocation.  Students must have completed all core courses and removed any incomplete grades from their transcript before taking the final written examination.  The Graduate School requires that students, at the time of taking the final oral examination, have a cumulative graduate grade point average of at least a 3.0 and be enrolled in their final semester.  Written examinations will only be scheduled each spring semester.


For students selecting the thesis option, the final examination committee is the same as the thesis committee.  The final oral examination is scheduled for two hours. In the case of students selecting the internship option, the final written examination covers material of the faculty’s choice.  Candidates should be prepared to discuss general questions about public administration theory and practice, public administration literature, sub-fields of the discipline and the internship experience.


The oral examination for students pursuing the thesis option will be in two parts.  The student must make a brief presentation of the thesis, including findings, and then a question and answer period is conducted.  The examination committee is at liberty to question the student on any aspect of the student’s graduate study, although it is presumed the emphasis will be upon the thesis topic.


Comprehensive Exam Basis (non-thesis internship/capstone option)

Once a student has successfully (a grade of B- or better earned) completed five of the six core courses (GOVT 502, GOVT 541, GOVT 547, GOVT 542, GOVT 544, and GOVT 549) and 30 of the 42 required credits in the program, the student is able to register for GOVT 519:  Proseminar in Public Administration.  The comprehensive written exam will be taken within this course during the first 8 weeks of the spring semester and any rewrites on failed portions of the exam will occur following the spring break.  Please note that students must complete all core courses with NMSU or be concurrently enrolled in any remaining core course in order to be eligible to take the comprehensive exam.  Students usually take the comprehensive exam in the last semester of the program.


Preparing for the Comprehensive Exam

While individual faculty may, at times, assist in preparing for the exam, it is ultimately the student’s responsibility to prepare for the exam. Preparation requires responsible and dedicated independent study; it is the student’s interest to retain syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, and readings from the core classes and electives completed within the department. These generally provide valuable reference material in preparing for the comprehensive exam.


Comprehensive Exam Grading Procedures

There are three sections to the comprehensive exam: public administration/organization theory, research methods/public policy analysis, and a third from ethics, public budgeting, or public personnel management. Each student must write a passing response to all questions for each of the three sections. Each section of the exam is graded as either: pass with distinction, pass, or not pass. The MPA director works with specific faculty to grade the exams over the first 8 weeks of the semester.  Exams are blind-graded by two public administration faculty for each section of the exam. Students must receive a passing grade for each exam section from both faculty. Students will be notified individually via email within a two-week period after completing the exam whether the exam has been passed with distinction, passed, or not passed. In the event that a student receives a “not pass” grade on any section of the exam, the student will be given a one-time option to rewrite the exam section. The student will be notified by the MPA director what section(s) have not been passed, and will arrange a timeframe for the student to rewrite the section(s) of the exam. If the student does not receive a passing grade for the rewrite, the student must take a new exam for the section(s) during the next regularly scheduled comprehensive exam. If the student receives a “not pass” grade once again, the student will be required to retake the relevant core course(s) before retaking the section(s) of the comprehensive exam not passed. There are several reasons for receiving a “not pass” grade: failure to directly address the question(s) asked, failure to answer each part of the question(s), incorrect use of terms and concepts, failure to illustrate depth or comprehension in formulating a response, inadequate use of materials and/or sources. The MPA director will notify the registrar’s office when a student has passed the comprehensive exam. This serves as the official notification process for the university that the student has completed the final exam requirement for the Master’s Degree in public administration. The student’s final obligation is to run a STAR report to verify that all remaining requirements have been completed in order to graduate.  A program of study is also required for students with any specific conditions of admission or students declaring a minor area of study.


If a student does not attempt to answer a section of the comprehensive exam, the section is considered not passed. Per grading procedures, the student will be given a one-time option to rewrite the exam section during the next regularly scheduled comprehensive exam. If a student does not attempt a second time to answer a section of the comprehensive exam, the section is considered not passed and the student may be removed from the program without degree completion.


Policies on Academic Integrity and Plagiarism for the Comprehensive Exam

The department encourages students to refer to and utilize course materials, notes, and readings accrued during the completion of relevant coursework in formulating responses to the comprehensive exam questions. Further, preparation for the exam may occur in tandem with other students, such as with study groups. However, the department insists that all students uphold the New Mexico State University’s Student Code of Conduct, “Students at NMSU have an obligation to uphold the laws of the larger community of which they are a part.” Therefore, incidences of academic dishonesty, collusion, and plagiarism on the comprehensive exam will not be tolerated. Plagiarism refers to appropriating excerpts from websites, books, journal articles, etc. without proper in-text citation referring to the original source of the material. For further clarification on what constitutes plagiarism, please refer to NMSU’s library website: Further, a student should not represent another student’s work as a valid response for any exam question. Additional resources used to answer any exam question are strongly discouraged as the comprehensive exam is directly related to the core courses and core competencies for the field of public administration. If a student’s response contains plagiarized material, or if a student has collaborated with another student in any way during the exam period, the student(s) will fail the entire exam and may be removed from the program without the option to complete the degree. It is expected that students taking the exam will consult with NO ONE, either professors or fellow graduate students, on any questions or issues relevant to exam content during the examination period. Further, clarification of exam questions should be directed via email to the MPA director.