department of english

Exam Guidelines


Goals of the Exam Option

The comprehensive exam two-semester sequence is designed to provide a broad base of knowledge for students entering the teaching profession while also allowing them to specialize in an area of concentration. The exam option offers additional flexibility to students who would prefer to take a comprehensive exam that will showcase their range of knowledge in an area of study, whether for the purposes of applying to Ph.D. programs or pursuing careers in secondary or higher education.

Overview of Procedures

In place of six hours of thesis credit, students who elect to take the comprehensive exam will take six hours of exam credit. The student, in consultation with the exam committee (three faculty members, one of them designated the chair), will schedule the comprehensive exam date towards the end of the second semester of exam credits. For students entering in the fall, the exam should ideally take place in the Spring semester of the second year in the program during the same week in which theses are due to the department chair. All required course work must be completed or else be in the process of being completed during the semester in which the student takes the MA comprehensive examination.

First-Year Preparation

Students desiring to take the MA comprehensive examination should meet with the Graduate Advisor in their first year (at the latest, during the first week of classes in the semester before they plan to take the exam) to discuss preparation for the examination. Students should choose their coursework with the exam in mind. Up to half of the texts on the exam can come from coursework. Coursework is the foundation for the exam but the goal of the exam will be to ensure that a student’s preparation will require additional research and reading to formulate the list of readings.

Semester One of Exam Credits

During the first semester of exam credits, students will put together an exam committee of three faculty members and develop a reading list in conjunction with that committee. These are faculty members who have expertise in the student’s area of concentration. By the end of the first semester of exam credits, the student must turn in the “Exam List Approval” form to the Graduate Advisor, with signatures from all faculty on the student’s exam committee. The Exam List Approval form will include the tentative exam date as well as the final version of the exam’s reading list.

The exam will be drawn from the reading list of required works selected in consultation with the student’s committee. The student will address one of the following areas of concentration for the exam: (1) American Literature; (2) British Literature; (3) Multicultural & World Literatures; (4) Pedagogy (for M.A.T. students); (5) Rhetoric & Composition; (6) Science Fiction & Fantasy.

For students in the American Literature, British Literature, Multicultural and World Literature, and Science Fiction and Fantasy concentrations, the final reading list should be comprised of 20-25 primary (literary) texts and 5-10 secondary (critical or theoretical) texts. Students who wish to pursue a focus within their concentration can have up to half of their list within that focus. For example, a student concentrating in British Literature who wishes to focus on modernism may choose 10-12 primary texts from the modernist period; the rest of the list would provide a general background in British literature. Defining this area should be done in consultation with the exam committee.

For the Rhetoric and Composition concentration, the final reading list should be comprised of one focus area of 20-25 texts, and a secondary area of 5-10 texts.  Typically, the first group of texts will constitute the student’s specific area of interest and the second will provide broader context for the field. Defining these areas should be done in consultation with the exam committee.

To compile these lists, the student can include texts relevant to the coursework they've taken (up to half the list). The faculty committee will add other important texts from the field that the student needs to read. The exam will be developed by the exam chair in consultation with the other members of the exam committee.

The student should plan to meet with their exam chair at least once per month during the two semesters of exam preparation, and should meet with each of their committee members at least once per semester.  The student should consult with their committee members about submitting preparatory work for these meetings, which may include responses to the texts that have been read so far or questions raised by the texts.

By the end of the first semester of exam credits, students should submit to the graduate advisor (1) the Exam List Approval form signed by all committee members; (2) a bibliography signed by all committee members that annotates at least half of the texts from the exam list.

Semester Two of Exam Credits

The student should continue meeting with the exam committee during the first half of the second semester.

During the latter half of the second semester, the student will take the two-part comprehensive exam. The goal of the exam is to test reading comprehension, close reading and analytical skills. Part A of the exam will take place on-campus over four hours. For Part A, students are only allowed to have the list with them (no notes, books, etc.). Part B will be a take-home portion that the candidate will complete over a 72-hour period immediately following Part A. Ideally, the first part of the exam will be taken at the beginning of the week in which theses are due to the department chair and the second half of the exam will be completed by the end of that week.

For literature exams, Part A will provide students with 6 passages from primary texts on the exam list: the student will choose 5 of these passages to identify and explicate. Part B will comprise three essay questions, each of which will ask students to make connections between the primary and secondary texts: the student will choose two of the questions and produce a 4-6 page (double-spaced) response to each. Each faculty member on the committee will choose two passages from the exam list of primary texts for Part A and write one question for Part B.

For Rhetoric and Composition exams, Part A will provide students with 6 questions about texts from the focus area: the student will choose 5 of these questions to answer. Part B will comprise three essay questions drawing from the focus area and the secondary area: the student will choose two of the questions and produce a 4-6 page (double-spaced) response to each. Each faculty member on the committee will write two questions for Part A and one question for Part B.

The MA examination will be graded as “Passing with Distinction,” “Pass,” or “Fail.” The exam will be graded holistically by the committee. Students who respond to fewer than the designated number of questions will receive a failing grade.

Students earning a grade of “Fail” on the MA Exam will be placed on Academic Probation for the term following the exam. Probationary status can be removed by earning a passing grade (“Pass” or higher) in the following semester, summer excluded. In the event that the student does not pass the exam in the following semester (excluding summer) and probationary status is not removed, the student can be academically dismissed from the program. Graduate Assistants maintain eligibility for an assistantship while on probation.

 Last Modified 1/10/17