S. Schier (sschier@carleton.edu)

Office Hours:

414 Willis

M 12:30-1:15


T 10:00-12:00

Winter 1999

W F 12:30-2:30


This class is intended for seniors taking the examination option of our department's comprehensive exercise. The examination will include two field questions and one "cross-field" question. This course is a prerequisite for taking the comps exam. If you do not pass this course, you cannot take the comps exam this spring. Course format relies heavily on student participation.

Books for the course are available in the college bookstore. They are:


Anthony Weston, A RULEBOOK FOR ARGUMENTS (recommended)

Grading involves a course total of 300 points, allocated in the following fashion:

Five short exercises (20 points each)

100 points

Written critique of exam essays

70 points

Written response to others' critiques

80 points

Class attendance and participation

50 Points

All students will receive a letter grade for the course. Your written assignments are due AT MY OFFICE BY 4 PM ON FRIDAYS. I plan to use them as a basis for class discussion. NO LATE SUBMISSIONS OF ASSIGNMENTS WILL BE ACCEPTED. Assignments can be sent to me via E-MAIL. A passing grade requires submission of all assignments on time.

Students during week one will form "field groups" that will meet weekly during the course to discuss field topics and questions. During the first seven weeks, students will complete their reading of the examination books. Class during these weeks concerns two topics. First, students will gain better analytical competence by subjecting the comps books to some exercises derived from the Meehan book. Second, students will discuss field and synoptic questions with members of the department. During the final three weeks, students will write exam questions, take a mock exam, critique each other's answers and respond to the critiques of others.

During weeks two through five, ninety minutes of each class will involve discussions led by two members of the department. Faculty will discuss questions in their fields and also synoptic questions. These sessions will be most useful to you if you come to them prepared to ask questions and make comments.

Course Schedule

I. Introduction: why are you here?

TASK: Define goals for the course; define the attributes of a bad essay; organize into field groups.

II.The qualities of good and bad description. READING: Meehan, intro. and chs. 6-8.

ASSIGNMENT: Develop a checklist of the major points in a description where quality can be lost. Employ the list in evaluating one of your comps books for "errors or bias" (as defined by Meehan) in its conceptual framework. (2-3 pages)

III.Assessing expectations and events. READING: Meehan, chs. 9-11.

ASSIGNMENT: (1) Using one of your comps books, illustrate how the purpose for which a classification is made influences its content. (2) Using a different comps book, identify a use of a theoretical "fudge factor," and whether it is permissible. (2 pages)

IV.Evaluating causal claims. READING: Meehan, chs. 12-13.

ASSIGNMENT: Identify at least two examples of the use of Mill's causal methods in your books, with an evaluation of the correctness of its usage in each instance. (2-3, pages).

V.Criticizing theories. READING: Meehan, chs. 14-15.

ASSIGNMENT: Using one of your comps books, evaluate the quality of its theory as a "map" for understanding. By what specific criteria of adequacy does it succeed or fail as a map? (1 -2 pages)


VII. A mock two-hour examination.

ASSIGNMENT: Each field group must hand in a list of possible field questions for use in the exam. Those questions are due in my office by NOON THURSDAY. I will then make up the exam. On Monday, we will have a mock exam which will begin at 1:50 pm SHARP. Students will write on one cross-field question and on a question in one of their two fields.

IX. Meet your critics.

ASSIGNMENT: After the exam, I will assign a reader for each of your answers. Readers will compose an evaluation of the essay to submit to me in writing and to share with the exam writer. The evaluation of each question should be about one page in length. On Thursday, each writer meets with each of his critics and discusses the quality of his/her essay.

X. Respond to your critics and submit group questions

ASSIGNMENT: Each student will write an analytical response to each of his/her critics. We will discuss these in class. In addition, each field group will submit two field questions and one cross-field question for the faculty to consider using in the actual comps exam. These also will be discussed in class.