2023-2024 MA Comprehensive Exams Weeks
Fall 2023: November 20-24
Spring 2024: April 8-12

M.A. Exam
Procedures & Reading Lists

(revised April 2022)

Exam Procedures

During the first semester of exam credits, students will put together an exam committee of three faculty members with expertise in the student’s area of focus, develop a reading list in conjunction with that committee, and begin reading in preparation for the exam. The student should plan to meet with the exam chair at least once per month during the two semesters of exam preparation and should meet with each of the committee members at least once per semester. The student should consult with the 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 half of the first semester of exam credits (October 14 for Fall 2023, March 1 for Spring 2024), students must submit to the graduate advisor 1) the final reading list, 2) a 1-page statement that offers a rationale for the list and notes any particular focus, and 3) the Master’s Committee Approval Form 6 signed by all three committee members. The remainder of the semester should be spent reading, annotating, and consulting with committee members in preparation for the exam.

During the second semester, students will continue reading and meeting with committee members. The two-part comprehensive exam will take place the week that theses are due to the Graduate College. 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.

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.

Reading Lists

The reading lists at the links below represent the foundations for student exam lists. Half of the texts on the literature list (10 of the 20) should come from one of these compiled lists; the other half and the 5-10 critical or theoretical books or essays may include texts studied during relevant coursework, texts related to a specific theme, genre, or focus of interest to the student, and/or texts recommended by the student’s exam committee. The exam will be developed by the exam chair in consultation with the other members of the exam committee.

Literature Reading List

The final reading list should be comprised of 20 primary (literary) texts and 5-10 secondary (critical or theoretical) essays or books. Students who wish to pursue a thematic (i.e. exile) or movement (i.e. modernism) focus in their literary and critical reading lists may do so for up to half of their lists.

Rhetoric and Composition Reading List

For the Rhetoric and Composition concentration, the final reading list should be comprised of one focus area of 20 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.