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School of Humanities

English Graduate Exams

Literature Exams (post-2010 students)

Master's Comprehensive/PhD Qualifying Exam
The First-Year Comprehensive exam will be given to all MA and PhD literature students. It will serve as the Masters Comprehensive Exam for MA literature students, and as the PhD Qualifying Exam for all PhD literature students. The exam will be given twice a year, once in August for students entering the program in the Fall and again in December for students entering in the Spring. All students sitting for the exam will take it at the same time. Full-time students will be expected to take the exam after their first year of study (for most students, this will be in August). If a student fails the exam, he or she will have to retake it in the following December. A second failure will lead to dismissal from the program. 
The exam always follows the same format and has the same general requirements. The exam consists of two essays written over seventy-two hours in response to two sets of prompts. The content of the essays stems from the reading done during the student’s first year of coursework. Each essay must incorporate a discussion of three texts that together cover a span of at least one hundred years. The exam will be read blindly by two members of the Graduate Workgroup, and in the case of a tie, by a third faculty member.  
To prepare for the exam, students should study, reflect on, and make connections between the texts read during the first year of coursework. The exam will test the student’s ability to write clearly about literature, perform close reading, and produce and support an argument. 

Sample Comprehensive Exam 


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 four 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 read and create two lists: a comprehensive field area/historical period (approximately 40 texts, at least 10 of which must be secondary sources) and a dissertation area (40 texts maximum). This second list should include literature, scholarship, and theory, and be intended to prepare the student to write the dissertation. When a student has completed his/her reading, he/she will submit the following documents to their comprehensive exam committee: an approximately ten-page (double-spaced) prospectus and two original syllabi. One of those syllabi should be for an undergraduate survey course (in or including the comprehensive field area) and the other syllabi can be for any course (upper-level undergraduate, graduate, etc.) that will likely be tied to or inspired by the dissertation area. The oral exam will start with discussion of these materials and then broaden out to address the two lists more generally. The oral exam, therefore, also serves as the prospectus defense. The student has up to a month following the oral exam to submit a revised dissertation prospectus to their committee based on the committee’s feedback at the exam. 
The reading lists for both areas must be finalized by the student and the full committee a minimum of three months prior to the expected Ph.D. comprehensive examination date.  
PhD students in literature generally take their comprehensive exams in the spring of their third year; MA/PhD combo students in literature generally take their comprehensive exams in the spring of their fourth year. In both cases, they spend that spring and the previous fall and summer reading the lists they compiled the previous spring.  
Exam Assessment 
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 oral exam may retake the exam once within six weeks; any student who fails the oral exam a second time will be dismissed from the program. Students who fail to revise the prospectus sufficiently may revise it again once within six weeks; any student who fails to revise the prospectus sufficiently a second time within six weeks will be dismissed from the program. Final assessment of the exam will be: High Pass, Pass, and Fail.  


Creative Writing Exams

Creative Writing MA Comprehensive Exam

Creative writing MA students must complete a Master’s thesis. The thesis defense will count as the Master's Comprehensive Exam.

Creative Writing PhD Qualifying Exam
The Ph.D. candidate must take an oral qualifying exam after completing 9 semester hours of doctoral work. The exam will be administered by a committee of at least three members, including (in most cases) all of the faculty members who have taught the student. The Qualifying Exam serves both as an evaluation of the student's work and as a formal advisement session. Passing the Qualifying Exam constitutes permission to continue in the Ph.D. program. The exam may be repeated only once.

Creative Writing PhD Comprehensive Exam
The written comprehensive examinations, taken after all coursework and language requirements have been completed, will be administered by a committee approved by the Director of Graduate Studies and the Office of Graduate Studies. This committee will consist of at least four members of the graduate faculty, at least two of whom must be literature faculty.

The candidate will take a four-hour exam in creative writing and two three-hour exams, one in an area listed below, and one on a single author or special area of interest. Exam areas must be approved by the doctoral committee the semester before the scheduled examination.

American Lit to 1890
British Lit to 1660
British Lit 1660-1890
British & American Lit 1890-1960
Non-traditional Literatures in English
A candidate may fail all or any part of the comprehensive examination. Any part of the exam may be retaken only once; failing any part of the examination twice will result in dismissal from the Ph.D. program.


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