UT Austin Exam in Government 312L

PLEASE NOTE: You may NOT take the credit by exam for GOV 312L if you do not already have a passing grade in GOV 310L or an equivalent course.

To accommodate students who wish to satisfy a part of their course requirements for US government outside of normal classroom work, the department offers the option of credit by examination. The GOV 312L course for which credit by examination is available is called “US and Texas Government and Constitution.” You should expect to answer three broad essay questions. The questions will deal with some aspect of the general topic of US and Texas Constitution and Government. A maximum of three hours working time is allowed.

The examination is offered twice each year, toward the middle of the fall and spring semesters. Visit the Test Registration System to view and register for upcoming test dates.

Level of Performance Required for Credit

To earn credit by examination for GOV 312L, students must make a C equivalent or better on each of the essay questions they answer. Because one does not need to attend 15 weeks of lecture, write papers, and read as many books and articles as customarily assigned in the regular GOV 312L classes, this test will be graded more stringently than an ordinary final in GOV 312L.

The UT Austin Test for Credit in GOV 312L will be a more advanced and detailed version of exams typically given in GOV 310L courses. It is a more demanding version of the CLEP Exam in American Government, the AP Exam in Government and Politics, and the UT Austin Test on Texas Government, which are used for credit by examination for GOV 310L. The examination is graded by regular Department of Government faculty; therefore, there is no point in wasting your time taking the examination if you have not read the assigned books carefully and developed considerable mastery of the material.

Grading Policy

Someone in the Department of Government will read your essays. If you pass all three essays, you will be awarded credit for the examination.

Registration Fee: 

The total of the fees for the test is $85. When you register for a test, you will immediately be billed for the non-refundable test registration fee of $25. After you take the test, you will be billed for the test fee of $60. Payments are due within 14 days of the billing date. All fees are subject to change.

Study Aids: 

Well before the scheduled date of the examination, students should undertake a careful study of the constitutions and politics of the United States and Texas. The questions will deal broadly with the basic institutions, processes, and policies of both the state and national governments. Students will find it useful to consult the following documents from which test items may be directly drawn:

  • Constitution of the United States, including the 27 amendments (a copy may be found in the Rossiter edition of the Federalist Papers cited next).
  • Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay,The Federalist Papers, edited by Clinton Rossiter, Mentor, 1961. Students should pay special attention to numbers 1, 8, 9, 10, 15, 23, 33, 39, 47, 51, 52, 54, 62, 70, and 78.
  • Anti-Federalist thought, the best collection of which is in Herbert J. Storing, Ed., The Anti-Federalist, The University of Chicago Press, 1981.
  • A thoughtful approach to understanding political parties in the modern American context can be found in John H. Aldrich, Why Parties?: The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America, The University of Chicago Press, 1995.
  • A landmark treatment of whether the courts can spur political and social reform can be found in Gerald N. Rosenberg, The Hollow Hope: Can Courts Bring About Social Change? 2nd edition, The University of Chicago Press, 2008.
  • A useful text on state and local politics is Todd Donovan, Christopher Z. Mooney, and Daniel A. Smith, State and Local Politics: Institutions and Reform, Wadsworth Publishing, 2009

In addition, students should consult an American Government textbook and a Texas politics textbook. We offer a few suggestions:

  • Morris P. Fiorina, Paul E. Peterson, Bertram Johnson, and William G. Mayer, The New American Democracy, Sixth Edition, Longman, 2009.
  • John J. Coleman, Kenneth M. Goldstein, William G. Howell, Tucker Gibson, and Clay Robison, Understanding American Politics and Government Texas Edition; Longman, 2009.
  • Thomas R. Dye, Bartholomew H. Sparrow, L. Tucker Gibson, and Clay Robison, Politics in America, Texas Edition (8th Edition); Prentice-Hall, 2008.
  • Richard H. Kraemer, Charldean Newell, and David F. Prindle, Texas Politics (10th edition), Wadsworth Publishing, 2008.
  • Ken Collier, Steven Galatas, and Julie Harrelson-Stephens. Lone Star Politics: Tradition and Transformation in Texas; CQ Press, 2008.

Taking a Government Essay Examination

How to Read an Essay Question

A Government essay examination is going to require you to understand the basic facts about the political system and to be able to put them together in a coherent analytical or normative argument.

The main thing you need to understand in answering an essay question is what is being asked. You should be careful to answer the question that is asked, rather than the one you hoped would be asked or are prepared to answer. Although some questions may be straightforward and simple (e.g., what are the Constitutional powers of the President of the United States?), the questions you are likely to encounter on this exam will be more demanding. They will ask you not only to demonstrate command of facts, of details you may remember from your reading, but also to put those facts together in a well organized and convincing argument about important interpretive or normative issues.

An example of the type of question that might appear is the following:

"The rise of the primary system is a major cause of the decline of political parties in the United States. Discuss."

Graders for this question would expect the student to know a great deal about the primary system (when it was first introduced, what it replaced, how quickly it spread, how it operates, the major criticisms and defenses of it) and about the so-called decline of political parties (what is involved in the decline of parties, what indicators might suggest such a trend, how long parties have been in decline, what the consequences are, good or bad, of such a development, etc.). This, however, is simply the beginning: the primary purpose of the question is to see if you can use your knowledge of primaries and political parties to consider the claim involved in the first sentence of the question: namely, that the rise of the primary system is itself a major cause of the decline of parties. Is this statement supported by the facts as you know them? Do you agree or disagree? Why? What alternative explanations for the decline of parties can you suggest? This question requires you to think about causality and to place various events and trends in a causal chain. It expects you to draw a clear and unequivocal conclusion that directly answers the question.

Almost any question you may encounter on an exam will open up a number of related issues. It is important that you exercise discipline to avoid being lured into a tangential discussion that is not directly pertinent to the question. For example, a major issue that relates to the above sample question is the tension between the intended and unintended consequences of political reforms. Well-read students will know, for example, that political primaries are an outgrowth of the Progressive impulse in American politics and that they were intended to wrest control of the nominating process from the "smoke-filled rooms" of party leaders and hand it back to the voters. They may well have opinions, backed by empirical evidence, that suggest that the primary reforms backfired. Or, they may be tempted to discuss the normative issue of whether it is better to leave politics in the hands of the professionals who may be better informed or more experienced than the voters, who are only episodically involved in the political process. Interesting matters to be sure, but they are not what the question demands that you address and they should be introduced only if you can make a strong case that they belong in your answer.

How to Answer an Essay Question

The key to a successful exam is to develop an argument in your essays. Not just any argument will do, of course. You need not worry that you may advance an argument with which your grader disagrees: that is of no consequence. The grader may be a strong proponent of the primary system, while you argue that it has been a great misfortune for America. That will not affect your grade. Your grade will depend on how well you develop your thesis, whatever that thesis is.

To develop a thesis you must first have one. Read the question and decide where you stand on it. Once you have decided on the thesis you wish to propound, organize your essay to support it. Generally, an essay should have three distinct parts.

I. Introduction

The introduction should be brief, clear, and powerful. It should leave the reader in no doubt as to what the author intends to argue and should be written in such a way that the reader is eager to continue in order to see how the author makes his or her case.

For example, confronted with the question on political primaries above, one might write something like the following:

"The introduction of the primary system is inextricably connected to the decline of political parties. Although primaries were designed to reinvigorate parties by making them more democratic and responsive to the electorate, they have had the perverse effect of vitiating party organizations, reducing voter turnout, and giving disproportionate influence to political activists and amateurs who misrepresent the views of the majority of regular party supporters. Primaries are, therefore, a major cause of the decline of political parties."


"The rise of primaries and the decline of parties are certainly linked temporally. Considering only the presidential nomination process, the rise of primaries is closely correlated with the collapse of the national nominating conventions as decision-making institutions, the weakening of party loyalty among voters, and the disarray of parties as governing organizations. But correlation is not causation. In fact, rather than being the cause, primaries are merely one unfortunate symptom of the deeper forces that have produced the decomposition of American political parties in the second half of the twentieth century."

II. Main Body

The body of your essay is the place where you assemble the facts that support the bold and specific claims made in the introduction. Any solid answer to the sample question would have to involve some basic description of the primary system--what it is, how it works, where it has been adopted, what its principal effects are, and so on. The answer would also need to address the matter of the decline of political parties--what does this mean, what evidence of decline can be found?

To these two sets of facts it is necessary to add logical analysis. What is causing what? One form of reasoning can involve temporal sequencing. If you can show, for example, that the decline of parties was well advanced before primaries were fully established, this would support the argument that the latter could not be the cause of the former. Another logical aid involves comparison. No other country in the world has a system of party primaries like that in the United States. Nevertheless, scholars commonly believe that the signs of party decline observed in the United States can also be found in most of the other Western democracies. This suggests that the causes of decline may be located in more general social and economic processes common to the democracies and are not a function of the particular mode of candidate selection employed in the US.

An additional analytical device is to consider whether purported explanations of political phenomena can be described as either manifest or latent. For example, James Madison in Federalist Paper 10 argues that the manifest (i.e., overt, closest temporally) cause of political factions is inequality of property. This is because those who have property of various sorts organize to protect it against the claims of those who have little or none. If the analysis stops here, however, our understanding will be incomplete. Madison goes on to point out that the latent cause of faction (i.e., the deeper, more fundamental cause) is, as he puts it, "sown in the nature of man." Factions result from human nature, from the different natural endowments with which human beings are blessed and from which, Madison believes, unequal possession of property derives. In making a causal argument, then, you need to be able to distinguish fundamental from secondary causes.

III. Conclusion

The conclusion should write itself. You will be running out of time. If you have no idea what to say in your conclusion, you are most likely in trouble. The conclusion might reiterate briefly your main thesis, it might draw out some implications of the thesis, or it might even refer to corollaries of the thesis--other conclusions that must be true because your thesis is true.

Test Results and Retakes: 

Results are available approximately 15 working days after the test date, in time to register for classes.

You may take the UT Austin Test for Credit in Government 312L only once.

UT Austin CoursesNotes
GOV 312LNo cut scores are publicized for this test.