Skip to main content

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.

Getting Started

Comprehensive exams require two semesters of preparation. Many students entering in Fall will typically begin this process in Spring of their first year. If entering in the Spring semester, you should begin this process early the following Fall semester.

Creating this list is a collaborative effort between you and your committee of two faculty members. You should expect to compose drafts, in consultation with your committee, and incorporate their feedback. It takes time and will consist of multiple meetings in person and through email. Students are expected to initiate this process and ensure that it is completed.

Semester Prior to Taking Comprehensive Exams

  • Make an appointment to speak with the Graduate Program Director (GPD) to begin the process by advising day.
  • Reach out to faculty members to meet, share your ideas for comprehensive exams, and to ask whether they are willing to serve as a reader on your committee.
  • In consultation with your committee, develop a draft of the reading list.
  • A draft of your reading list is due to your committee for approval at the end of your second semester.

Developing a Reading List

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 and a sense of historical development. When appropriate for the subject matter, it should also consider multiple modes and genres, and both primary and secondary sources.

You should work with your committee of two faculty members to develop a list of five questions plus a 3-5 page justification of those questions (in total, not per question). Both the questions and justifications should be composed in consultation with faculty through a process of discussion, feedback, and revision.

You are expected to prepare so that you can demonstrate comprehensive understanding of the skills of your field, among them in-depth analytical thinking, close reading analysis, the application of theory, and the use of your field's technical vocabulary.

Semester of Taking Comprehensive Exams

Exact dates for the following will be determined by the GPD each semester. If the due dates below 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 exam—to be followed in full.

As with the reading list, students are expected to initiate this stage of the process and ensure that the following is completed:

  • On the first day of your third semester, an approved (by the two faculty members) reading list is due to the GPD.
  • If adjustments to the list are required, and the list must be revised and finalized by the end of the second week of that semester.
  • Committee-approved questions with justifications are due the end of week 8 the semester in which the student intends to take comps.
  • During the 9th week, email the GPD your chosen 48-hour period for taking the exam.
  • Exams are taken in a continuous 48-hour period sometime during the 10th – 11th weeks of the semester (see below).

Taking the Exam

The comprehensive exam will consist of two of the five questions from the reading list, chosen by the faculty members. Exams are graded by the two faculty members working with the student (although a different grader may be substituted if circumstances require it). If the scores submitted by the two faculty members differ, a third grader will be used to decide the final grade. The grades are Pass, Pass with Distinction, and Fail.

You will take the exams during a continuous 48-hour period. You will take the exam in a location of your choosing. It is open book and notes; no proctor is required. The exam will be administered electronically so the location needs to have internet connectivity.

Re-Taking Comps: If you fail the exam, you can take the exam again at the next testing date, and two questions will be chosen from the original list of five. The comprehensive examination may be taken only 2 times, and if a student fails twice, they will be dismissed from the MA or MAEd in English Studies program.

Office of Web Services