Comprehensive Examinations

  • Literature and Criticism PhD students in a classroom

    Doctor of Philosophy in Literature and Criticism

    These examinations fall between the completion of the course work, language and research skills requirements, and the beginning of the dissertation.

    Prior to the exam, you should select three areas in which to be examined:

    1. Literary theory and practice should be based on a two-part list:
    2. The broad area or category may be a traditional literary period, genre, theme, or group of writers. The general idea is to develop a list that identifies a recognizable field or disciplinary area within the profession of English studies, and it should be done broadly enough that it covers an historical period of roughly 100 years or more. For example, if you choose Charles Dickens for the narrow area, you might select the British Novel, 1780–1880, for the broad area.
    3. The narrow area or category might be a specific author or a narrowly defined literary period, movement, or theme. This area often becomes the focus of the dissertation, and the examiner in the narrow area often becomes the director of the dissertation. Be particularly careful in selecting the examiner and the topic for this area. Most commonly, the narrow area is nested within the broad area time period.

    Once the three exam areas have been defined, you will select three faculty members who agree to serve as examiners. Their expertise should align with the three exam areas chosen. Then, you will prepare a reading list for each area exam that will be approved by both the examiners and the director of Graduate Studies in Literature.

    Your next step will be to obtain approval on the comprehensive exam application and scheduling form from the Graduate Studies in Literature office. Be sure that the completed and signed form is submitted to the English Graduate Office.

    The procedures for the comprehensive exam will be e-mailed to you at a specified day and time, and you will have one week to compose the three exams. An oral exam will complete the process. Each of the three examiners for the comprehensives will evaluate all three written exams and then use these evaluations as preparation for the oral.

    Please see the Graduate Literature Comprehensive Examination instruction sheet for detailed information on the exact procedures, which must be followed carefully.

    Examinations will test your ability to recall significant features of subject matter, to know and apply critical scholarship pertinent to the topic, and to organize and articulate this critical knowledge in effective written and oral performances. If any or all of the examinations are failed, they may be taken a second time, generally no earlier than one semester and not later than one year after the first attempt. You must be re-examined in the same area as the original examination; selection of a different area in lieu of the failed examination is not permitted. Failure to pass all exams after two attempts constitutes discontinuation in the program.