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 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

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 and 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 affect quality of governance?

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. Unit 7 applies 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 includes 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 will also see learning outcomes in each unit. You can use those learning outcomes to help organize your studies and gauge your progress.


Course Materials

The primary learning materials for this course are articles, lectures, and videos.

All course materials are free to access, and can be found in each unit of the course. Pay close attention to the notes that accompany these course materials, as they will tell you what to focus on in each resource, and will help you to understand how the learning materials fit into the course as a whole. You can also see a list of all the learning materials in this course by clicking on Resources in the navigation bar.


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 calculated as soon as you complete it. If you do not pass the exam on your first try, you may take it again as many times as you want, with a 7-day waiting period between each attempt. Once you have successfully passed the final exam you will be awarded a free Course Completion Certificate.

There are also 14 short quizzes in this course. These are designed to help you study, and do not factor into your final course grade. You can take these as many times as you want to, until you understand the concepts and material covered. You can see all of these assessments by clicking on Quizzes in the course's navigation bar.


Earning College Credit

This course is eligible for college credit via Saylor Academy's Direct Credit Program. If you want to earn college credit, you must take and pass the Direct Credit final exam. That exam will be password protected, and requires a proctor. If you pass the Direct Credit exam, you will receive a Proctor Verified Course Certificate and be eligible to earn an official transcript. For more information about applying for college credit, review the guide to college credit opportunities. Be sure to check the section on proctoring for details like fees and technical requirements.

There is a 14-day waiting period between attempts of the Direct Credit final exam. There is no waiting period between attempts for the not-for-credit exam and the Direct Credit exam. You may only attempt each Direct Credit final exam a maximum of 3 times. Be sure to study in between each attempt!


Tips for Success

POLSC221: Introduction to Comparative Politics is a self-paced course, which means that you can decide when you will start and when you will complete the course. There is no instructor or set schedule to follow. 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 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 we've compiled a few study strategies to help you succeed:

  • Take notes on the various terms, practices, and theories that you come across. This can help you put each concept into context, and will create a refresher that you can use as you study later on.
  • As you work through the materials, take some time to test yourself on what you remember and how well you understand the concepts. Reflecting on what you've learned is important for your long-term memory, and will make you more likely to retain information over time.


Technical Requirements

This course is delivered entirely 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 for free here. Although you can access some of the course without logging in to your account, you should log in to maximize your course experience. For example, you cannot take assessments or track your progress unless you are logged in.
  • If you plan to attempt the optional Direct Credit final exam, then you will also need access to a webcam. This lets our remote proctoring service verify your identity, which is required to issue an official transcript to schools on your behalf.

For additional guidance, check out Saylor Academy's FAQ.



This course is entirely free to enroll in and to access. Everything linked in the course, including textbooks, videos, webpages, and activities, is available for no charge. This course also contains a free final exam and course completion certificate.

This course also has an optional final exam that can give you an opportunity to earn college credit. This exam requires the use of a proctoring service for identity verification purposes. The cost for proctoring for this optional exam is $5 per session.

Last modified: Thursday, July 8, 2021, 12:55 PM