The MPA Qualifying Exam Student Guide

The MPA Qualifying Exam Student Guide

Student Guide to the MPA Qualifying Exam

Students take the MPA Qualifying Examination (MPAQE) while enrolled in PAD 700. Students failing to take PAD 700 and the Qualifying Exam in a timely fashion are subject to programming restrictions and may be barred from registering for additional courses.

The following guidelines apply effective Fall 2009. Students initially matriculated prior to Fall 2009 will be offered the option to complete the new version of the MPAQE, or the old version which will be administered one more time in March 2010. After that time, the only MPAQE option available with be the new version. The previous version of the MPAQE Guidelines is available here:

The MPAQE is a 2-hour examination. The exam involves answering an essay question based on a journal article. Neither the article nor the question is provided in advance, although sample questions and the grading instrument are provided in advance.

At the time of the examination, students are provided a reading from an academic journal in Public Administration such as Public Admnistration Review, along with an essay question. The question is designed to the capacity of the student to:

  • Demonstrate reading comprehension of the article,
  • Demonstrate comprehension of the terms and concepts in the article;
  • Critically evaluate what the article says,
  • Take a position and defend it with logical reasons,
  • Use references from the article to illustrate and support the position, and
  • Develop a responsive, organized and coherently written essay.


The examination design assumes that the student will take approximately 45 minutes to read the article and conceptualize the response to the essay, and another 45-75 minutes to write the essay.

Examination Administration and Grading

Students enrolled in PAD 700 complete the MPAQE duringa regular period for the course section in which they are enrolled. The faculty member for the section will announce the date of the examination. No application or permission is required. Students who fail to take the exam receive and INC grade in PAD 700 and are expected to complete the examination during the standard time set by the Registrar, during the subsequent semester.

Students taking the exam who are not enrolled in a current section of PAD 700, typically because they are electing to take the new version of the MPAQE or are retaking the MPAQE after a failure, must contact the Department Administrative Assistant for seating in a PAD 700 section that fits the student's schedule.

Students are instructed to identify their examinatoin books using a a code that is to be used in place of the student's name on the examination.

The examination is graded by faculty members who are not aware of the identities of the students completing the examination. Grading is completed using the MPAQE Grading Instrument, which provides a framework for assessing the following aspects of the essay:

  • Responsiveness to Question
  • Key Terms and Concepts
  • Organization
  • Argumentation
  • References to the Reading
  • Vocabulary, Sentence and Paragraph Structure
  • Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation


The first reading of the examination is graded by the faculty members teaching PAD 700 during the semester involved, rotated so that no faculty member is grading the work of students in his or her class section. Second readings, in cases where the examination does not receive a passing score, are completed by a panel of faculty members designated by the Program Directors.

Posting of Results

Pass/Fail results of the examination will be published on the date and time specified by the MPAQE Coordinator. Results will be posted in the MPAQE Advising section of the MPA Student Center which is accessible on Blackboard. All results are coded to protect student anonymity. Detailed results and counseling will be available after the date and time specified by the test administrator.

Appeal of Results

Grading of examinations is blind. The faculty members do not know whose examination they are grading. If a student fails any part of an exam, the exam is assigned to a second faculty member for an automatic appeal review. If the second reader passes the exam, then it is assigned to a third reader and the determinations of two of the three readers determines the result. This procedure constitutes the appeal process. There is no additional process of appeal.

Second and Third Retake

When a student fails the MPAQE, the student is invited to contact the MPAQE Coordinator who is a member of the MPA faculty. The Coordinator is available to meet with the student to discuss the problems with the students examination, as reflected in the grading sheets completed by the MPA faculty members who graded the student's exam.

A student is entitled to take the Qualifying Examination a second time. The Coordinator will provide a prescription defining steps the student might take to improve performance. These steps might include:

  • Auditing a section of the core course associated with the failed exam part;
  • Completing another class such as PAD 755 Writing for Management; and/or
  • Approaching preparation for the examination in a different way.


If a student fails to take the MPAQE for the second time during the subsequent semester, the student will be barred from registering for classes until the examination is taken and passed. For example, a student who fails the exam in the Fall and fails to retake in the following Spring may not register for classes in the following Fall semester.

A student must receive the permission of the Program Director to take the MPAQE a third time. For a student to be granted permission to take the MPAQE a third time, the student's record my reflect counterbalancing academic achievements.

The MPAQE Question

The following is an example of the kind of question you will be asked to answer. This is NOT the question, but an example to brief you on what to expect.

The question is based on a short reading which you are provided, on paper, at the time of the exam. In this case, the reading is an article about organizational change. The article can be downloaded here:

QUESTION: Fernandez and Rainey suggest eight factors associated with successful organization change. The factors describe a sequence of recommendations grouped as factors. Select two factors that you consider to be related - so that success in a later stage depends on success in an earlier stage. Relying on the article, explain the factors and explain your position about their relationship.

The answers to the question will be graded based on a which can be downloaded here:

The ratings with the enhanced border reflect the expected rating to pass the examination.

Frequently Asked Questions

I started the MPA Program in Spring 2009 and I haven't taken the Foundations Exam yet. Can the MPAQE replace the Foundations Exam?

Yes. You have the choice of completing the three-part Foundations Exam or the one-part MPAQE.

How do I sign up for the MPAQE? 

If you are registered in a section of PAD 700, ask your professor to announce when the MPAQE will be administered. It will usually be administered several weeks after midterms. If you have completed PAD 700 but have not taken the MPAQE and wish to take it, you should contact the MPAQE coordinator, Professor Judy-Lynne Peters to arrange to take the exam at a time when an MPA course section is taking it.

How do I find mys scores for the MPAQE? 

Scores are posted in the MPA Student Center in Blackboard, in the section about the MPAQE. The section will include an announcement of the dates when scores are expected to be posted, and the actual scores are posted as a message inside the discussion forum of the MPAQE section. If you took the MPAQE while attending a section of PAD 700, your professor will also circulate the results. All results identify the student only by a 5-digit number.