Students complete oral examinations in the fall of their second year of the program. The oral exam tests students’ ability to analyze and synthesize information, to present ideas coherently, and to answer questions and think on their feet. Successful exams will feel more like an interesting and informed conversation than a test.
The theme of each year’s oral exam matches the topic of the Center’s event series from the prior year. Students are not tested on the content of the event series talks. Instead, students should draw on the event series to formulate and answer a specific question related to the annual theme. In doing so, students are encouraged to draw on some of the different disciplines represented in the MAGES program. The annual theme of the event series is typically quite broad—too broad to discuss in any meaningful way in an exam that lasts only 20-30 minutes. In order to facilitate an in-depth discussion, the topic for the oral exam should be narrower and more focused. Students should illuminate a particular problem in European studies from a clearly defined analytical perspective.
Before the exam, students write a one-page single-spaced statement outlining their question and main argument. This statement is due to the Supervisor of Academic Programs in early October. (Refer to SAP emails for the specific deadline.) The SAP and the MAGES Director will review the submitted statements and request rewrites as needed.
Sample written statements from prior years are available from the SAP.
Each student’s oral exam is administered by two CGES faculty members. Students may request one of the two faculty members; the other is assigned. Students are not limited to selecting among the core faculty but may instead select the visiting DAAD Professor, the visiting Prince of Asturias Professor, or certain CGES Adjunct Professors. Professor requests are due to the SAP in mid September.
Oral exams are held in late October and/or early November. Exams are held in the CGES library. (Students studying at the Hertie School in Berlin for the fall semester complete their exams via Zoom.)
The exam begins with the student making a short oral presentation (no more than five minutes) on their chosen topic. Faculty examiners will have read the written statement in advance, so the oral presentation should expand upon and not merely rehash this written statement. If your thinking on the subject has changed since submitting the written statement, explain why and how it has done so.
After the oral presentation, faculty examiners will pose a series of questions to the student. Examiners may, for example, ask that the students provide additional evidence to support their argument; challenge the student’s argument with contradictory evidence; or ask the student to apply their analysis to another region of Europe or to another case. (These are examples and not an exhaustive list of the types of questions students should expect.) Students will be evaluated on the substance and fluency of their presentation and responses.
After the conclusion of the formal exam, students will leave the library so that the faculty examiners can confer. Faculty will then call the student back in and announce the grade.
Grades for the oral exams include Distinction, High Pass, Pass, and Fail. Students who fail the exam must retake it successfully in order to graduate. The student’s grade is reflected on the academic transcript.