General Information on Plan B Exams in All Fields: Procedures, Expectations, and Format

The Plan B exams will be given at the end of the spring and fall semesters only. No makeup exams will be given under any circumstances. Candidates wishing to take the exams should notify the graduate advisor by no later than the fourth week of the semester in which they plan to take the exam. All candidates should print out the Plan B form under “Graduate Forms” at this website and send it the history graduate advisor. Do not simply call or e-mail the graduate advisor informing him or her that you want to take the exam.

The exams will be scheduled on a weekday evening beginning at 4:30 or 5:00 p.m. The exam will last for four hours and the students will be expected to answer three questions. It will be a closed book exam with no notes allowed. Candidates may take the exam at a computer lab on campus or write in blue books (legal pads, provided by the graduate advisor) if they prefer.

Candidates may only take the exam three times. If a candidate fails the exam three times, s/he will not receive the degree and may not elect to revert to the Plan A option.

Faculty members in the pertinent field will devise and grade the exam. In the event of any disagreement, the exam will be referred to a third reader in the field. Candidates should expect to wait at least two weeks before getting the result. The exams will be graded on a Pass/Fail basis. No comment will be given to candidates who pass the exam. If a student fails the exam, the examiners will provide comments indicating why the candidate failed.

The questions for the exam will be based on the reading lists in the field. There is a general Plan B reading list in U.S. History (Part I, pre-1865 and Part II, post-1865) and in World History available in the History Department office. Candidates in Modern European History agree upon a reading list with their professors. Within the format described below, candidates will be given a reasonable choice of questions.

Candidates should not assume that because they have completed all their course requirements and taken the U.S. History 210 series, or the 220 series in World History that they will be fully prepared for the exam. Not all necessary readings can be covered by course work; some independent reading and study is expected of Plan B candidates.

On the exam the student is expected to demonstrate considerable breadth and depth of knowledge, a familiarity with historiographical issues, to write a reasonably well organized essay within the time constraints, and to follow acceptable rules of grammar, spelling and literary style in presentation. Candidates should answer the question directly. In answering questions, students, while offering their own analysis should refer to books and authors that have informed their view of the subject. Some questions will be more explicitly historiographical than others. The following questions obviously call for a historiographical type of answers: How have interpretations of the causes of the French Revolution changed in the last fifty years? How have historians disagreed about the nature of slave culture and society in the antebellum U.S. since the publication of Kenneth Stampp’s The Peculiar Institution in 1956?

Other questions will not call as explicitly for a historiographical essay about debates among historians. Here are two examples: What were the causes, manifestations and consequences of the industrial revolution in early nineteenth century America? Why did the two world wars of the twentieth century become so widespread and destructive, and how did the second relate to the first? In answering questions like this, it is a good idea to mention relevant books and authors (especially if explicitly asked to do so), but the answers also require your analysis, not just an essay that exclusively summarizes what historians have said on these topics. Further, some questions like this will require that you demonstrate knowledge of essential facts and data to support your analysis. Do not overlook this. Essential facts, dates, names, etc. are not always taught in graduate classes. It is often assumed that you will already know this information or will glean it from your readings. It is often a good idea to read an appropriate “textbook” or overview type of book when you are taking the HIST 210 or HIST 220 series, and/or to read “textbook” or overview books when preparing for the Plan B exams.

Format of the U.S. Plan B Exams

Students can elect to take the exam in United States history to 1865 (Part I) or United States history since 1865 (Part II). On both the pre and post 1865 exams, students will be given seven to nine questions, and they can choose to answer any three questions. You may obtain a copy of the reading list at the History Department office, DMH 134. There is more detailed information about the U.S. Plan B exams below.

Format of the World History Exam

Students in World History will be given three questions in each of the three periods covered by 220ABC (pre 1000, 1000–1750, and since 1750). Students may choose one or two time periods and answer three questions. See the Graduate Advisor for additional information.

Format of the Modern European History Exam

The Masters Exam in European History offers students at least six questions, and they must answer three. The first two sets of questions are very general. They ask students to consider themes, movements, and events, such as revolutions in European history from 1750 to the present. The third set of questions examines students on topics in European history from 1945 to the present. There are at least two questions in each section, and one question must be answered from each section. To obtain a copy of the reading list, contact Professor Mary Pickering or Professor George Vasquez.

Requirements for Plan B Exam in US History

Coursework Requirements:

Students must take all three courses in the U.S. History 210 sequence, although the courses need not be taken in chronological order: 210A (Colonial America), 210B (Nineteenth-Century America), and 210C (Twentieth-Century America).

Description of the Plan B Examination:

On the examination candidates are expected to demonstrate mastery of two areas: a basic factual knowledge of the period of American history in which they are being examined, and a grasp of the major historiographical debates in those periods. A candidate writing an essay about the New Deal and its impact on America in the 1930s, for example, would cover in depth and detail key pieces of New Deal legislation (the date, basic provisions, and deficiencies of the Social Security Act, for example) and would also name the historians and the arguments associated with particular interpretations of the New Deal. Factual information is readily available in the reading list for the Plan B exam, and students will also have been exposed to historiography in the HIST 210 series, as well as in HIST 102 and HIST 200. For historiographical essays in U.S. History, see Eric Foner and Lisa McGirr, eds., American History Now (2011), James M. Banner, Jr., ed., A Century of American Historiography (2009), or Interpretations of American History (2 vols.), 8th ed. (2008), edited by Couvares, Saxton, Grob, and Billias. Basic American history textbooks that also contain historiographical summaries are the most recent editions of Alan Brinkley, American History: A Survey, or Foner’s Give Me Liberty. More on the historiographical essay, and specifically how to write one, appears in Anthony Brundage, Going to the Sources (5th ed., 2013), ch. 6.

Readings for the PLAN B Examination:

There two separate lists of required reading for the Plan B examination, one for Part I and one for Part II. Each list contains approximately 75–80 works. All of the works appearing on each list are required for the appropriate Plan B examination. In other words, if you are taking Part I of the U.S. History examination, you will be expected to be familiar with all of the works on the Part I list. If you are taking Part II of the U.S. History examination, you will be expected to be familiar with all of the works on the Part II list. You can pick up a copy of the reading list at the History office.

Relationship of the Required Reading Lists to the 210 Course Series:

In the U.S. History 210 series, at least 70% of the books used by the faculty will be drawn from the Plan B exam list. This means that many, but not all, works will be covered in the 210 sequence. Students should familiarize themselves with the skill of reading a historical work rapidly yet carefully for the author’s thesis, main arguments, historiographical position, evidence, and methodology.

Although the Department of History sees the HIST 210 sequence as part of the preparation process for the Plan B exam, students should be aware that it is not the only preparation that they are required to make for success on the exam; they must study on their own as well. Not all topics, or readings on a particular topic, will be covered in the 210 series. Faculty teaching the 210 sequence reserve the right to introduce and require important books or articles that do not appear on the examination reading lists as a part of their teaching. Graduate students taking the Plan B exam are expected to read required books not “taught” in class, in the same way that students writing a thesis do much work on their own outside the context of a formal class. For colloquia not taught in the 210 series, the “70%” rule does not apply (in other words, instructors for those courses may assign any works of their choosing).

Central to the teaching goals of the HIST 210 series is imparting to graduate students the methods and skills of professional historians. These include learning to assimilate factual information about a historical time period, and also learning to understand and critique historiographical arguments in the assigned readings. At the instructor’s discretion, various methods will be used to ensure students’ grasp of the readings and historical facts; these methods may include mini-lectures by the instructor, class discussion, essay tests, quizzes, book review assignments, historiographical essays, annotated bibliographies, and the like.