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MA Comprehensive Examination in Literature


The Comprehensive Examination consists of 1) the General Examination and 2) either a Thesis Defense or, for students not writing a thesis, an Area Examination.

 

I.  The General Examination (All students)

A. The General Examination is offered only three times a year:

the first Saturday in October
the first Saturday in February
the first Saturday in June.

These dates provide adequate time to schedule a Thesis Defense or an Area Examination (described below) later in the semester, prior to graduation.

B. Students should sign up for the Examination at the Graduate Advisor’s office. A sign-up sheet will be posted at least two weeks before the planned test date, and you may also phone the program assistant at 245-7683.  

C. Students will have two hours to complete each of the two parts (Analysis and Synthesis) of the General Examination, with an hour-long lunch break between the parts. Students may choose to write either on a computer or in a blue book, and the Department will accommodate students who have diagnosed disabilities, documented through the University's Office of Disability Services, that affect performance on written examinations. Students writing on computers may use the dictionary built into Microsoft Word, while students writing by hand may use a print dictionary. No other books or software may be used.

D. Each Examination will be identified to the faculty readers by the student’s University ID number only. Faculty will rate each of the two sections as Passing with Distinction, Passing, or Not Passing. An evaluation of Passing with Distinction will be granted only to exceptional performances and will be awarded only by unanimous decision. A Passing essay demonstrates learning in the discipline; familiarity with appropriate literary terminology and methods of analysis; and clear, coherent writing. For a student to pass the General Examination, two members of the Graduate Faculty must evaluate both parts as at least Passing. Students who must retake one or both parts of the examination may sign up for the next regularly scheduled test date.

E. The Graduate Advisor will report the results to the student and the chair of the student’s oral or area examination.

 

II.  The Thesis Defense (Thesis-track students)

The student and a committee of three graduate faculty members will work out details for the administration of the Defense. During this one-hour oral examination, students who have elected to write a thesis will answer questions, concentrating on the thesis, posed by the committee. A student with a Minor or an Area of Emphasis (Cognate) involving another discipline may choose to include a faculty member from the other Department as the third member of the committee. A student with an Area of Emphasis developed entirely in English may select all members of the committee from English graduate faculty. With the student’s approval, observers may attend the Defense.

To complete the Comprehensive Examination, a thesis-track student must pass both parts of the General Examination and the Defense.

 

III.  The Area Examination (Non-thesis-track students)

The student and a committee of three graduate faculty members will work out details for the administration of the Examination. All students using this option will have at least nine English courses, making it certain that all may identify an Area of Emphasis (at least two courses related by period, subject, or genre). A student with a minor or an Area of Emphasis (Cognate) involving another discipline may choose to include a faculty member from the other Department as the third member of the committee. A student with an Area of Emphasis developed entirely in English may select all members of the committee from English graduate faculty.  

The student will work with the committee chair to draw up a tentative reading list of 15 to 20 book-length works related to the Area of Emphasis. The chair will confer with the other committee members and seek their approval of the list. The chair will return a copy of the approved list to the student. 

During the Examination the student will respond as directed to one or two essay topics from a choice of several. Committee members outside English may contribute to the development of these questions, or they may elect to write a separate essay question. All three committee members will read the Examination and evaluate it as Passing with Distinction, Passing, or Not Passing. 

To complete the Comprehensive Examination, a non-thesis student must pass both parts of the General Examination and the Area Examination

 

IV.  Appeals

Students will have one opportunity to retake all or any part of the examination once. Students who wish to appeal a non-passing grade after a second attempt must address their concerns to the Department Chair.

(updated 03/23/10)


Click here to read about the comprehensive exam guidelines in detail