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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 any one portion of the exam, he or she will have to retake that portion when the exam is offered again. If a student fails two or more sections, the whole exam will have to be retaken. You may only retake the exam once. Any student who fails the exam a second time will be dismissed from the program.

The exam will always follow the same format, with the same general requirements for each part. 

Sample Comprehensive Exam 

Reading List

Study Terms

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 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 by the student and the full committee a minimum of three months prior to the expected Ph.D. examination date.

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.”


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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