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Sample Comprehensive Exam Questions

Each semester, the graduate committee will prepare the comprehensive exam question as described in the Graduate Manual.  Students are required to answer one question. The answer is limited to 25 typed, double-spaced pages, excluding references.

The questions provided below are sample questions.  Generally speaking, the question will be fairly broad, permitting you to answer it in a number of different but equally valid ways.  The question will incorporate material from a number of the core courses, and you are encouraged to consult library resources as you prepare your answer.

Again, the questions below are not the questions you will be asked to answer on your comprehensive examination.  They are only offered as examples of what a comprehensive exam question might look like.  You should be prepared to answer a broad question that incorporates material from a number of your classes and which may require some outside research.

Sample Question #1: (Administered Spring Semester 2006)

Sex offenders, perhaps more than any other type of criminal offender, have become the pariahs of the criminal justice system and of society.  As a series of high-profile cases raised public concern about sex offenders, politicians responded with increasingly punitive public policies aimed at the control of both sexual offenses and sex offenders.  Your task is to prepare an analytical essay exploring the evolution of criminal justice policies aimed at sex offenders.  Do so by addressing the following points in a cogent essay.

In framing your answers, be advised that this is not the forum for unsubstantiated emotional arguments.  Rather, you should use this opportunity to demonstrate your grasp of scholarly concepts pertinent to criminal justice.  You will be expected to cite a variety of outside resources in support of your answers, in proper APA format.

  1. Discuss the historic development of laws and/or policies pertaining to sex offenders.  While much attention has been paid to sex offenders in recent history, you should also take care to survey earlier eras, as well.
  2. Consider the above historical developments from the perspective of policy theory.  How would policy theories explain the historical evolution of sex offender policy?  Think, in particular, about agenda setting, problem definition, and any other theories you believe to be relevant. 
  3. What criminological theories might explain a sex offender’s criminal behavior?  Provide an overview of two or three theories and how they would specifically relate to sexual offending.  How would you assess the reliability and validity of each theory?  Which theory do you think has the most explanatory power, and why?
  4. How has the Supreme Court ruled on issues involving policies, laws, etc., pertaining to sex offenders?  Note any important Supreme Court cases, as well as any from other appellate courts that you believe to be significant or relevant.  Summarize the cases and indicate whether or not you agree with the rulings, and why.
  5. Assume that you have the resources to construct a true experiment on any topic relevant to sex offenders.  Describe how you would do so.  Specify a testable hypothesis and explain how you would use an experiment to confirm or disconfirm it.
  6. Does the criminal justice system treat female sex offenders differently than male sex offenders?  If so, how might you explain disparities?  You may wish to think about recent cases involving perpetrators who are female teachers, and how those cases are perceived or treated differently than others. 

Sample Question #2: (Administered Fall Semester 2002)

According to both the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) and National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) data, all crime has dropped continuously since the early 1990s.  There have been a number of explanations for this dramatic decrease in crime rates and victimization rates, but it appears to be a myriad of theories.  Address this issue by responding to the following questions:

  1. Provide a discussion of general trends in the crime rate over the last ten years.  Be sure to utilize and cite actual data from both the UCR and NCVS as you outline the trends.  Also, address and explain any discrepancies that you note between the two measures.
  2. Discuss historical precedents and/or explanations for this type of drop in crime.
  3. Identify three theories that might explain the crime drop.  Assess the validity and reliability of each (please make sure you use the terms “validity” and “reliability” properly, according to the technical definition!)
  4. Which of the above criminological theories do you think provides the most powerful explanation of the crime drop?  Based on the tenants of this theory, discuss at least one implication for contemporary criminal justice policy (i.e., the development of a new program).   In your analysis, discuss the role of at least two of the following factors:  race, the mass media, organizational culture, and/or constitutional and legal issues.