MA in English – Literature

Comprehensive Examination

The Comprehensive Exam in Literature is typically given during the 8th week of the quarter, either in Fall or Spring.  The exam lasts 4 hours.

A double-Literature student will take two comprehensive exams representing two different periods and two different nationalities.

The reading list for each exam will be composed of 12-15 items, determined by the instructor.

The exam comprises two parts:

  1. Identifications.  10 short passages are presented. Students will identify the author and title of each work and explain why and how each passage is significant (in terms of the period and the genre, but also in terms defined by each individual instructor). 

  2. Essay.  Two essay topics are given; students will write on one of the two. The essay should incorporate three works from the reading list. If the professor wishes, s/he may specify that there should be some genre diversity in the works chosen.

In the essay, students will be expected to demonstrate the following:

  1. an ability to formulate a thesis that organizes their response while articulating a clear argument
  2. an awareness of periods in literary history (such as Romanticism, Modernism, postmodernism, Harlem Renaissance, etc.) as they pertain to the works discussed so as to contextualize their close reading or analysis of the specific texts
  3. an awareness of cultural and historical influences on the authors and works discussed
  4. skilled use of literary and theoretical tools for analysis, from an explication of figurative language to a discussion of feminism, critical race theory, transnationalism, etc. as deemed appropriate to inform a critical discussion of the texts at stake
  5. a conscious concern for the aesthetic and human issues that animate literary works and the discipline of literary study
  6. skill and felicity in writing, from the sentence level to the overarching organization of their essay, so as to indicate a high degree of control in scholarly writing.

Students will not be allowed to consult books or secondary sources during the exam. Students will rely on their memory to refer to specific works and focus their energies on writing clearly.

The exam will receive one of the following “grades”: High Pass, Pass, Low Pass, or Fail.

A high pass will demonstrate specific and thorough engagement with each of the facets mentioned below. A passing effort will engage all of the above facets with sufficient specificity to demonstrate familiarity.  Essays that do not incorporate the relevant facets mentioned above or that contain only vague or superficial references to those facets will not be judged as passing efforts.

Students will receive an official letter from the department informing them of their exam results.