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Graduate Written Comprehensive Exams

The written comprehensive exam is a significant milestone in the student's academic career. It is not intended to review or address the material of a particular class, but to address a wide field of study and a diverse set of perspectives. Consequently, students are asked to select those areas of study on which they wish to be examined, and to work with three different faculty members in taking their comprehensive exams.

  • The exam is taken in three parts.   
  • All parts will be taken in one semester. This can be a summer semester if faculty are available.
  • It is expected that students take the comprehensive exam during their last semester of coursework or shortly thereafter.
  • The exam may be taken while working on the thesis. However, according to Graduate Studies Requirements, the oral defense of the thesis cannot be scheduled until the written comprehensive examination has been passed.       
  • Students should make arrangements for their comprehensive exam early in the academic year to make sure that faculty will be available.
  • It is the student's responsibility to arrange the comprehensive exam. Students should work closely with their advisors in selecting areas of examination and faculty examiners.

The written comprehensive examination will cover three broad areas of English or American language and literature. Students should select three (3) areas of study from the following list:

  • British Literature
  • American Literature
  • World Literature
  • Literature by Genre
  • Literature by Period
  • Linguistics/English Language
  • Literary Criticism
  • Composition/Rhetoric and Pedagogy

For each area, the student should also choose a graduate faculty member with expertise in that area to act as an examiner.  Select three faculty. Selected faculty will work with the student to develop the exam question or questions for that area, and to set the date, time, and procedures for that section of the exam. Common procedures include open-book timed writing (3 - 4 hours), or a take-home paper.

The three faculty members representing the three areas selected by the student will form the Comprehensive Reading Committee.

Each section of the exam will be read and evaluated by the faculty member who wrote the question. Completed exams will be held by one member of the Reading Committee until all three sections are taken before being passed on for review by the full Reading Committee. When all the exams are completed, the Reading Committee will meet to determine the student's overall evaluation.

Each exam must pass the entire Reading Committee by consensus. All three sections of the exam must receive a pass.

The student receives a score of:

  • Pass with honors
  • Pass
  • No pass

A letter stating the student's performance on the comprehensive exam will be sent to the student.

If a student does not pass an area of the exam, the Reading Committee will determine what steps the student will need to take in order to pass the exam.