Course Syllabus

Welcome to POLSC221: Introduction to Comparative Politics.

Specific information about this course and its requirements can be found below. For more general information about taking Saylor Academy courses, including information about Community and Academic Codes of Conduct, please read the Saylor Student Handbook.

Course Description

Survey of the governments and politics of several contemporary societies in the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Explores political leadership, representative mechanisms, legal processes, and the extra-institutional behaviors of voting culture, ethnic conflict, and corruption.

Course Introduction

Like it or not, we can't escape politics. Politics, a term best defined as the distribution, exercise, and consequences of power, exists at multiple levels in our society and in our daily lives. We experience politics in action, for example, in international negotiations, government policy choices, our workplace, and even in our own families. This course focuses its efforts on exploring the formal, public sphere of politics and power relations through a systematic study and comparison of types of government and political systems. Comparativists (practitioners of comparative politics) seek to identify and understand the similarities and differences between these systems by taking broad topics--say, for example, "democracy” or "freedom”--and breaking them down into factors that can be found in individual systems. We call this general approach "the comparative method.” The goal of the comparative method is to identify the factors and/or categories of analysis to effectively compare and contrast different political phenomena. Using the comparative method, we can tackle broader, more complicated questions like: Are certain forms of representative democracy more effective than others? Why are some countries extremely prosperous, while others are extremely poor? How does the degree of authoritarian control by a government drive economic development? Does culture impact quality of governance? The course proceeds as follows: Unit 1 introduces basic concepts in social science, comparative political theory, and methodology. Unit 2 examines the state and compares authoritarian, totalitarian, and democratic state forms. Unit 3 focuses on the concept of democracy and democratization. Unit 4 explores institutional features of government and governance. Unit 5 moves outside the realm of government structure to explore how variables including culture, interest groups, pressure groups, lobbying, the press, media campaigns, nongovernmental and quasi-nongovernmental organizations shape outcomes in politics. Unit 6 compares different ideologies and government policy processes. In Unit 7, we apply comparative methods to examine variations of government structure and economic development across four different regions of the world: the Americas, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Upon successful completion of the course, you will have the methodological background to understand and explain variations in political behavior and political institutions. You will also have a general understanding of the issues facing political systems in each of the regions covered.

This course is comprised of the following units:

  • Unit 1: Social Sciences and Comparative Politics
  • Unit 2: The Nation-State
  • Unit 3: Democratic States and Democratization
  • Unit 4: Comparing Political Structures and Institutions
  • Unit 5: Political Behavior
  • Unit 6: Comparing Ideology, Policy and Decision-Making
  • Unit 7: Comparative Case Studies

Course Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • identify and differentiate between various theoretical research paradigms employed in the social sciences;
  • apply comparative methodology to the study of political systems;
  • identify and differentiate between various methodologies used to compare political systems;
  • understand how past events in state’s developmental path lead to differences in long-term outcomes;
  • identify key factors in the economic competitiveness among states;
  • compare and contrast development outcomes among resource-rich and non resource-rich states;
  • explain key views on the evolution of the international system;
  • understand how states approach the issue of development;
  • understand the policymaking process and some of the forces that impact that process;
  • compare and contrast the various political systems in the world;
  • understand how party identification impacts voting;
  • explain the latest trends in voter turnout;
  • explain the impact of media on the public and the state;
  • compare and contrast the key democratic institutions in various countries;
  • understand the reasons for bureaucracy;
  • describe and explain the political economy and development in selected countries; 
  • identify and explain political challenges and changing agendas in selected countries;
  • compare and contrast the effectiveness of public and private sectors;
  • identify the various approaches for studying democracy; and
  • understand the development of various systems of government.

Throughout this course, you'll also see related learning outcomes identified in each unit. You can use the learning outcomes to help organize your learning and gauge your progress.

Course Materials

The primary learning materials for this course are readings, lectures, video tutorials, and other resources.

All course materials are free to access, and can be found through the links provided in each unit and subunit of the course. Pay close attention to the notes that accompany these course materials, as they will instruct you as to what specifically to read or watch at a given point in the course, and help you to understand how these individual materials fit into the course as a whole. You can also access a list all of the materials used in this course by clicking on Resources in the course's "Activities" menu.

Evaluation and Minimum Passing Score

Only the final exam is considered when awarding you a grade for this course. In order to pass this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the final exam. Your score on the exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it. If you do not pass the exam on your first attempt, you may take it again as many times as needed, following a 7-day waiting period between each attempt. Once you have successfully passed the final exam you will be awarded a free Saylor Certificate of Completion.

There are also 14 multiple choice and short answer quizzes in this course. These are intended to help you to gauge how well you are learning and do not factor into your final course grade. You may retake all of these as many times as needed to feel that you have an understanding of the concepts and material covered. You can locate a full list of these sorts of assessments by clicking on Quizzes in the course’s “Activities” menu.

Earning College Credit

This course is eligible for college credit via Saylor’s Direct Credit Program. If you are seeking to earn college credit, you must opt to take and pass the Saylor Direct Credit final exam. That exam will be password protected and require the presence of a proctor. Upon passing that final exam you will receive a Proctor Verified Course Certificate, and will be eligible to earn an Official Transcript. For more information about applying for college credit review the “Guide: College Credit Opportunities”. Be sure to check the section on proctoring for details (fees, technical requirements, etc.)

Note: There is a 14-day waiting period between attempts of the Direct Credit final exam. There is no imposed wait period between attempting the non-credit certificate-bearing exam and the credit exam. Some credit exams have a maximum number of attempts allowed, which will be detailed on the exam’s instructions page.

Tips for Success

POLSC221: Introduction to Comparative Politics is a self-paced course in which you the learner determines when you will start and when you will complete the course. There is no instructor or predetermined schedule to follow. While learning styles can vary considerably and any particular student will take more or less time to learn or read, we estimate that the "average" student will take 75 hours to complete this course. We recommend that you work through the course at a pace that is comfortable for you and allows you to make regular (daily, or at least weekly) progress. It's a good idea to also schedule your study time in advance and try as best as you can to stick to that schedule.

Learning new material can be challenging, so below we've compiled a few suggested study strategies to help you succeed:

  • Pay special attention to Unit 1, as it will lay the groundwork for understanding the more advanced, explanatory material presented in the latter units.
  • Take notes on the various terms, practices, and theories as you read. This can help you differentiate and contextualize concepts and later provide you with a refresher as you study.
  • As you progress through the materials, take time to test yourself on what you have retained and how well you understand the concepts. The process of reflection is important for creating a memory of the materials you learn; it will increase the probability that you ultimately retain the information.
  • Although you may work through this course completely independently, you may find it helpful to connect with other Saylor students through the discussion forums. You may access the discussion forums at

Technical Requirements

This course is delivered fully online. You will be required to have access to a computer or web-capable mobile device and have consistent access to the internet to either view or download the necessary course resources and to attempt any auto-graded course assessments and the final exam.

  • To access the full course including assessments and the final exam, you will need to be logged into your Saylor Academy account and enrolled in the course. If you do not already have an account, you may create one, free of charge, here. Although you can access some course resources without being logged into your account, it’s advised that you log in to maximize your course experience. For example, some of the accessibility and progress tracking features are only available when you are logged in.
  • Occasionally, Flash may be required to run certain multimedia and/or interactive applications in the course. Should you be prompted to enable Flash, click the option to allow or follow these instructions for enabling Flash on your computer or laptop.
  • If you plan to attempt the optional credit recommended final exam that accompanies this course, then you will also need access to a webcam enabled computer. A webcam is needed so that our remote proctoring service can verify your identity, which will allow Saylor Academy to issue an official transcript to schools on your behalf.

For additional technical guidance check out Saylor’s tech-FAQ and the Moodle LMS tutorial.


There is no cost to access and enroll in this course. All required course resources linked throughout the course, including textbooks, videos, webpages, activities, etc are accessible for no charge. This course also contains a free final exam and course completion certificate.

This course does contain an optional final exam that will provide students an opportunity to earn college credit. Access to the exam itself is free, though it does require the use of a proctoring service for identity verification purposes. The cost for proctoring is $25 per session.

Last modified: Friday, August 10, 2018, 4:21 PM