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Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology Sample Qualifying Exam Questions

Past exam questions are provided below:



1.  Criminal justice agencies and programs have long been preoccupied with crime control related policies and practices. In the last couple of decades there is some indication that this focus is shifting, or has shifted, to rehabilitation, habilitation, crime mapping, evidence based practices, restorative justice and social support. Choosing examples from all areas of criminal justice practice, discuss the evidence of both the old and the new focuses in police, courts and corrections.

2.  The criminal justice budgetary allocations have remained relatively static over the years. Your task is to reallocate the budgetary allocations of police, courts, and corrections, to facilitate a criminal justice system best capable of achieving justice.

•  Be sure to justify your reallocations. What would your criminal justice system look like once you reallocate the budget, what would be the primary focus within the key components (police, courts, corrections), what major changes would you make to achieve the larger goal, and what factors would likely impede your reform effort?


3. The criminal justice system in the United States was recently criticized by President Obama as a “broken system” that fails to achieve justice or to serve our communities by making them safer. As scholars, we are often critical of the criminal justice system even though much of contemporary research focuses on “what works.” What does the U.S. criminal justice system do well? Explain why this is the case.

Note: You may focus your answer within your area of expertise (police, courts, corrections, or theory) or you may consider making a broader argument.

4. Criminologists agree that rates of violent crime have fallen in the United States from their peaks in the early 1990s. Yet, violent crime remains comparatively high in the U.S. relative to other advanced industrial societies, and remains at a level equal that of the 1960s when the fear of “crime in the streets” dominated political debate in America. Moreover, high rates of violence have persisted despite massive increases in incarceration in the U.S.  Explain the persistence of high levels of violent crime in the face of unprecedented levels of incarceration?

5. Academics have been using the scientific method to study criminal behavior since the early twentieth century. Describe the ways in which the scientific study of criminal behavior has affected institutional policy reforms to curtail criminal behavior in the United States.  Are social scientists effective in influencing policy regarding the treatment of offenders?

6. The “what works” literature in criminal justice is replete with descriptions of policies, practices and programs that are having a noticeable and positive effect. First, give an overview of whether you believe the criminal justice system as a whole is actually changing how it does business by using evidence from research. Second, choose one area of the criminal justice system as an in-depth example to support your argument.

7.  After decades of increasing incarceration rates and expanding prisons, the 2008 financial crisis demonstrated that this punitive approach is not sustainable. This has helped fuel the search for ways to be ”cheap on crime’ throughout the criminal justice system. Discuss some of the proposed methods to reduce costs within your area of expertise (police, courts, or corrections) identifying the opportunities and threats the cost reducing methods may have on the implementation of ethical practices.

8.  Reform in many criminal justice institutions has included principles of evidence-based practice, which identify and implement criminal justice interventions that have been evaluated and demonstrated to work. One of the criticisms of evidence-based practice is that it is “data” driven- as opposed to “theory” driven- in explaining “what works” in criminal justice. First, explain the importance of theory to the study of criminal justice. Second, chose a theoretical perspective and use it to explain why you believe the implementation of an “innovate” practice within police. courts, or corrections (chose only one area) will succeed or fail as currently implemented.




1.  Explain the interrelationship between reliability, validity, and generalizability in research methodology. Reference relevant examples from criminal justice to illustrate your points.

2.  Compare random assignment and random selection. What are their similarities and what are their differences? In what way does each help to improve the validity of research conclusions?

3.  Pick a concept from your research. Break it down into its constituent parts and operationalize it for: 1) Survey research; and 2) a qualitative methodology of your choice.

4.  Statistical significance has been discussed as a somewhat arbitrary criterion and many researchers have begun to incorporate measures of effect size as a way to counteract this critique. Please describe why the concept of statistical significance can be viewed as arbitrary and if you feel the field needs to expand its criteria to include more elements of substantive impact.

5.  The term “control variable” is well known but the concept has a specific meaning for the process of hypothesis testing and multivariate analysis. Explain the idea behind control variables. Create a research question with singular hypothesis. Then identify several control variables. Using a multivariate model, explain how your selected control variables may impact the results of your hypothesis test.

6.  Interactions combine the effects of two (or more) variables. The testing of interaction effects can be used to identify: specified study impacts for key subpopulations, thresholds of variable impacts, and polynomial trends. Explain how interaction effects work and use a real example in your own or prior research in which interactions could potentially impact study findings.

7. In multivariate models, why are cases with extreme values undesirable, what are some of the techniques that are used to deal with those extreme cases, and why are some of those techniques preferred over others?

8. The generalized linear model (GZLM) is one of the most fundamental techniques in quantitative criminology. How does this approach relate to standard OLS regression? What types of dependent outcomes can be examined with GZLMs and, conceptually, how do GZLMs manage this level of flexibility?

9. Type I and Type II errors can impact the decisions that are made regarding the detection of effects—that is, whether or not a detected difference rises to the level of statistical significance. Describe each type of error and what can be done to prevent it.

10. While the true experiment is considered the “gold standard” of research designs, it is rarely used in criminology and criminal justice. Describe the research designs that are used in our field when we cannot use true experiments and explain how those research designs are employed to approximate that which is best achieved by the true experiment.

11. Not all methods are equal when it comes to maximizing the balance between external and internal validity. Describe the designs that are best for either to explain how to maximize internal and external validity.

12. It is often stated that the plural of “anecdote” is not “data.” In thinking about qualitative interviewing, is this statement true and what steps must be taken to ensure that “data” are produced?

13. Present one way in which you could construct a comparison group for a quasi-experimental design where the intervention has already been running for several years and an experimental design is impossible. Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your approach.

14. Statistical assumptions are a requirement of all statistical tests. In particular, parametric tests possess the greatest number of assumptions. Provide a real world example in which statistical test assumptions have the potential to be violated, some potential solutions, and when a solution cannot be attained, how a researcher might couch their findings in a way that would not diminish study impact.

15. Long term, immersive ethnographic research is often discussed as a way to effectively participate and observe a specific setting and understand the manner in which the people in that setting construct meaning in their social worlds. Identify one potential challenge of this method for validity AND one category of ethical dilemma that may arise.

16. Explain the concept of the standard error and its connection to generalizability.

17. Time can be an opportunity or a barrier. For both cross-sectional and longitudinal designs, several analysis choices can be selected. Describe an analysis for each design type and indicate the potential limitations for both types.

18. Statistical power is an important consideration of a study design. Explain how statistical power, if not properly accounted for, can negatively impact study findings. Additionally, identify procedures to consider prior to data collection that can ensure requisite statistical power is achieved.

19. Correlation does not imply causation. Explain what correlation and causality are and identify approach(es) to establish causation in research.

20. A number of criminal justice and criminology outcomes are binary in nature. Give examples of their utilization as dependent variables in research and identify some issues in using OLS regression to analyze them. Discuss the best statistical solution(s) to these issues.

21. Missing data are an issue that most quantitative researchers must address. Identify the threats they pose to research results and discuss some strategies to minimize their harm in quantitative studies.

22. What is theory-driven evaluation? Identify its characteristics, and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of designing a theory-driven evaluation.

23. Discuss two (2) strengths and two (2) weaknesses of quasi-experimental designs.

24. The IRB serves to assure the protection of human subjects. When dealing with vulnerable populations, what procedures may be implemented to protect research participants? Give examples.