PhD Comprehensive Exam, Literature Emphasis

In the course of the third year of full-time study for those admitted to the program from the BA, or in the course of the second year of full-time study for those admitted to the program from the MA, students will begin to organize an examination committee. The committee must consist of five faculty members, one of whom will serve as chair. (This committee may also serve as the student’s dissertation committee, but it does not have to be so.) With the advisement and approval of the committee and the director of Graduate Studies, the student will identify his or her areas of study.

In creating his/her areas of study, the student will compile reading lists, one for each of three categories: a Comprehensive Field area, a Methodological area, and a Genre/Movement/Figure area. In the Field area, the student will be asked to demonstrate mastery of a broad field of study; in the other two areas, the student will be asked to demonstrate a coherent research agenda and a coherent articulation of a process of critical inquiry.

  • Comprehensive Field Area

This field should span an historical period of at least 100 years and emerge from our curriculum’s distribution areas. The Field area should identify the historical and literary context for the student’s anticipated area of specialization and dissertation project. In articulating the Field area, the student should be able to “justify” the time frame in terms of historical, social, generic, and stylistic parameters. This reading list would consist of approximately 50 primary texts and 20 secondary texts.

  • Methodological Area

This area should be an expression of the student’s methodological and theoretical approach to his/her project. As with the Field area, the student should be able to thoroughly justify both the methodological approach and the texts that support it. This reading list would consist of approximately 30 texts and articles.

  • Research Focus Area

A third area defined in terms of genre, movement or major figure.In this area the student’s more specific primary text/research interests will be articulated. As in the other areas, the student must be able to justify this area and the texts he/she is including on the list. The reading list should consist of approximately 30 texts, both primary and secondary. 

The reading lists for all three examination areas must be finalized a minimum of three months prior to the expected Ph.D. examination date by the student and the full committee.


The Exam

The exam is in two parts: a take home written exam on the Comprehensive Field area, and an oral exam on the methodological and research areas. The Comprehensive Field Exam will be administered as a TAKE-HOME WRITTEN exam, with 72 hours allotted for completion. The exam itself will ask the student to write on three questions (from a choice of six). Questions will require students to engage both primary and secondary material.

No more than two weeks after the student completes the take-home exam, he/she will sit for an ORAL EXAMINATION covering (primarily, but not exclusively) the second and third areas. This 2-hour oral exam will consist of: one 45-minute section on each of the remaining areas, and a 20-minute section that will allow questions concerning the relationships between the Methodological and Research Focus areas and the manner in which those two areas illuminate the Comprehensive Field area. There is allowance for a 10-minute break. Committee members may designate a specific faculty member to take the lead in one or more of the exam sections.


Exam Assessment

Students who pass the written exam will go on to the oral exam. Students will be informed of the results of the oral exam—and the exam performance overall—immediately following the oral. Students who pass the oral exam will be “admitted to candidacy.” Students who fail the written exam may retake the exam once; any student who fails the written exam a second time will be dismissed from the program. Students who fail the oral exam may retake it once; any student who fails the oral exam a second time will be dismissed from the program.

Final assessment of the exams will be: High Pass, Pass, and Fail.


Exam Schedule/Timing

Exams must be completed in the course of the fall or spring term (not in the summer). Retakes of either the written or the oral portion of the exam must be completed within six weeks of taking the original exam.

For the full-time student admitted to the PhD program from the bachelor’s degree, the comprehensive exam should be taken at some point during the fall semester of Year Four or in the earliest weeks of the spring semester. These students must successfully complete the exam by the end of the spring semester of Y4 in order to be deemed as making “satisfactory progress.”

For the full-time student admitted to the PhD program from the master’s degree, the exam should be taken after the student has completed his/her 33 hours of coursework; for the full-time student, this should occur in the middle of Year 3. These students must successfully complete the exam by the end of the spring semester of Y3 in order to be deemed as making “satisfactory progress.”