Comprehensive Exams

All MA in English candidates and all MAEd in English candidates are required to take English Comprehensive Exams. MAT in English students are not required to take comprehensive exams.

Comprehensive exams constitute a graduate level capstone experience that allows students to do the following:

1. Demonstrate breadth of content knowledge by analyzing a variety of texts across periods, genres, and/or subject matter.

2. Demonstrate depth of content knowledge by making connections between different texts, historical periods, and theoretical approaches.

3. Demonstrate ability to prepare independently in order to process texts not specifically linked to course work.

Comprehensive exams require two semesters of preparation, and students must make an appointment to speak with the Graduate Program Director (GPD) to begin the process on advising day the semester before the student intends to sit for the comprehensive exams.

First, students work with two faculty members to create a reading list, faculty chosen in consultation with the GPD. This process should begin in the student's second semester (for students finishing in two years; for students who will be in the program longer, this process should begin the third semester before graduation). Creating this list is a collaborative effort that will require negotiation; it takes time and will consist of multiple meetings in person or through email. Students are expected to initiate this process and ensure that it is completed. A rough draft of the reading list is due to the two faculty members for approval at the end of the second semester.

Reading lists are comparable to the amount of reading covered in two graduate classes. The list may contain works covered in classes, but it should also contain new, independent reading that is at least equivalent to the work required in one graduate class. It must demonstrate both breadth and depth in its content, a sense of historical development, multiple modes and genres, and both primary and secondary sources. Students are expected to prepare so that they can demonstrate mastery of the skills of their field, among them in-depth analytical thinking, close reading analysis, the application of theory, and the use of their field's technical vocabulary.

On the first day of the student's third semester, an approved (by the two faculty members) reading list is due to the GPD. She/he may require adjustments to the list, and the list must be finalized by the end of the second week of that semester.

Students work with two faculty members to develop a list of five questions plus a 3-5 page justification of those questions (in total, not per question), a process which will require a series of negotiations and revisions which should begin early in the semester. As with the reading list, students are expected to initiate this process and ensure that it is completed.

Comps testing days are set according to the schedule given below. The comprehensive exam will consist of two of the five questions, and these two questions are chosen by the faculty members. If a student fails the exam, he or she can take the exam again at the next testing date, and two questions will be chosen from the original list of five. Exams are graded by the two faculty members working with the student (although a different grader may be substituted if circumstances require it). A third grader may be required to break a tie. The grades are Pass, Pass with Distinction, and Fail.

The comprehensive examination may be taken only 2 times, and if a student fails twice, he/she will be dropped from the MA or MAEd in English program.

If the deadlines above are not met, the student's comps will be moved to the following semester to provide enough time for the process, which is an integral part of the test, to be followed in full.

Comps Testing Model for Students Entering Fall 2017 or later:

As ratified at a faculty meeting on March 3, 2017, students admitted to the MA program beginning in fall 2017 will be moving to a new comprehensive exam format. Students who began the program before fall 2017 will have the option of continuing under the model they came in under or taking exams under the new model. Students who have already begun the testing process (creating their reading list, composing questions, and/or taking the test) may not move forward; they must continue the model they began.

In this new model, students will take the exams during a continuous 48-hour period. The students can take the exam in a location of her/his choosing; it is open book and notes; and no proctor is required. The exam will be administered through blackboard, so the location needs to have internet connectivity. (Exact dates will be determined by the GPD each semester depending on how the calendar falls.)

  • Approved questions with justification due the end of week 8 the semester in which the student intends to take comps.
  • During the 9th week students email the GPD their chosen 48-hour period.
  • Exams taken in a continuous 48-hour period during the 10th/11th weeks of the semester

Comps Testing Model for Students Entering prior to Fall 2017:

Students already in the program can choose this new format described above or the exam format in place when they entered the program described below. Students who have already begun the testing process (creating their reading list, composing questions, and/or taking the test) may not move forward; they must continue the model they began.

In this old model, each exam will be three hours long; it will be scheduled in a classroom at WCU; no books, notes, or internet usage is allowed; and it is proctored.

  • Approved questions with justification due the end of week 10 the semester in which the student intends to take comps.
  • Students should take comprehensive exams at the beginning of their last semester of study; for full-time students that will typically be their fourth semester. The testing schedule is as follows: (1) fall semester, on the Friday after Labor Day; (2) spring semester, on the Friday after Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday; (3) summer, the first Friday after the beginning of the first summer session in June.
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