Comprehensive Exam: Literature, Language & Culture Emphasis

The comprehensive examination for the M.A. in English with Emphasis on Literature, Language, and Culture is administered by the candidate's examining committee. Traditionally, the examining committee consists of three members from the Department of English, Linguistics, and Writing Studies and one related field/minor examiner from outside the departments. (Candidates offering linguistics as an internal related field or a designated minor should familiarize themselves with the description of Linguistics as an Internal Related Field or Designated Minor.")

The comprehensive examination consists of a six-hour written portion and a one-hour oral component.

Written Portion

The written exam is a three-part test taken over two days. All parts of the written examination will test the candidate's writing ability. Texts and notes are not allowed for the second and third parts of the examination unless an individual's committee decrees otherwise.

Part One: Primary Text with Selected Secondary Works (Two Hours)

One part, lasting two hours, will be a close analysis of an approved text from a work of literature (in English or another language), non-fiction prose or linguistics, with 5-8 secondary or critical works related to the primary text, selected and approved at least four weeks before the examination. Complete bibliographical information should be included for these works for approval.

A copy of the primary text and notes on the secondary texts may be used during this part of the examination. All other portions of the exam are closed-book.

Part Two: Literature, Language, and Culture (Three Hours)

The second part, lasting three hours, is based on three reading lists:

  • two compiled with and approved by two examining committee members from English, Linguistics, and Writing Studies,
  • one compiled with and approved by the "outside" committee member from the related field.

These lists must be approved at least four weeks prior to the examination, though ideally reading lists should be prepared by the candidate gradually and more or less continuously as courses are completed and formalized the semester before the exam is to take place.

In devising the lists in collaboration with the exam committee members, the student should observe the following:

  1. The list should consist of whole works, substantial parts of whole works, or groups of works, and collectively total at least 25-30 texts from a diverse group of authors and/or genres.
  2. The authors should be chosen from the three following categories, with some representation for each one: 
  • Readings in Anglophone literatures and cultures offered by the Department of English or Writing Studies
  • Works in "language," including Linguistics, Media Studies, Rhetoric, Visual Rhetoric, and/or a language other than English, as well as the cultural contexts of those languages (e.g., cultural studies, history, philosophy, political science, or studies in non-Anglophone literatures cultures through the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures).
  • Readings in culture from the disciplinary perspective of the required Related Field (that is, not English or Writing Studies)

In this part of the examination. there will be some choice of questions. They will assume the student's general familiarity with three major categories as well as detailed knowledge of the chosen works.

Part Three: Comparative Analysis

The third part, lasting an hour, is comparative analysis of works drawn from the diverse reading lists above.

Questions in this section will be based on 8-12 works selected from the "Primary Text" or "Literature, Language, Culture" reading lists. The candidate will select this list in consultation with the Exam Committee Chair or other designated member of the exam committee. The Comparative-Analysis Reading List must be included in the Master Reading List Document and distributed to the entire committee at least four weeks before the written exam at the latest, though ideally at the beginning of the semester when the exam is to take place.

Oral Portion

On the fourth working day after successful completion of the written exam portion, the candidate will meet with the examining committee for the one-hour oral component (see "Principles and Procedures For Conducting the Oral Component of the Comprehensive Exam").