There are three written comprehensive examinations and one two-hour oral examination. Both written and oral examinations require the formation of a committee
consisting of a minimum of four faculty members.
The first four-hour proctored written exam will evaluate the Ph.D. student’s command
of at least 100 seminal texts in his or her Teaching Field—75 primary sources and 25 secondary sources, including scholarly books, chapters,
and articles. The scope of the exam should roughly correspond to an undergraduate
survey (for example, Brit Lit to 1750; British Literature from 1750; American Literature
to 1865; American Literature since 1865; or African-American Literature), and should
be organized around broad historical, national, and generic problems. The list will
be developed by the student in consultation with his or her dissertation director
The second four-hour proctored written exam will evaluate the student’s command of
at least 75 seminal texts in his or her Research Field—50 primary sources and 25 secondary sources. The scope of the exam should roughly
correspond to an upper-division undergraduate or graduate course, and should be organized
around the critical problems peculiar to the student’s chosen area of specialization
within the concentration, whether literary-historical ("Romanticism"), generic ("The
Slave Narrative"), or thematic ("Vampires in Literature"). The texts must be distinct
from those covered on Exam #1. The list will be developed by the student in consultation
with his or her dissertation committee.
The third written exam, a take-home exam, will evaluate the student’s command of the
literature and criticism directly related to his or her proposed dissertation area.
The objective of this exam is for the student to demonstrate that he or she has sufficient
depth of knowledge to develop an original dissertation project and to draft a coherent
dissertation prospectus. The student will write an essay of 3,500 to 5,000 words based
upon a reading list of 20 to 25 primary and / or secondary texts. The list will be
developed by the student in consultation with his or her dissertation committee, and
the essay will answer a question or explore a topic assigned by the committee. The
intention of Exam #3 is to help students find a good dissertation question by familiarizing
them with the critical movements, theories, and methodologies that will be important
to their eventual dissertation. The essay must be completed within seven days.
To allow time to study for the exams, students should take their first written exam
within two semesters after completing all PhD coursework (including the foreign language
requirements). Students could then take one exam per week over three weeks. A student
will have a maximum of two months to complete all of the comprehensive exams.
After the written exams have been completed and graded, there will be a two-hour oral
exam based upon the written exams.
A student who fails one section of the comprehensive examination will be given one
opportunity during the same semester or not later than the following semester to retake
that section. A student who fails more than one section of the exam will be given
an opportunity to retake a different exam (with all new questions) no later than the
following semester. A student who fails the second comprehensive exam will be dismissed
from the program.
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