M.A. Comprehensive Exams

Exam Overview

The Master of Arts in Comparative Literature and Cultural studies requires passing a comprehensive exam. The exam is based on the students’ coursework and a list of readings approved by the advisor and the candidate’s committee. The exam for the nonthesis option of the Master’s degree concentrates on the students’ main areas of specialization and two areas in world literatures and cultures. The thesis option requires only the world literatures and cultures part of the comprehensive exams. If necessary, an oral exam addressing weak areas in the written exams will be scheduled. The exams should be taken at the end of the fourth semester of study. Early in that semester, students should contact the advisor to discuss the reading lists and schedule the exam. The comprehensive exams are graded on a pass/fail basis. If failed, the exams may be repeated once.

Course Work and Areas of Examination

All students in the M.A. Program in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies must take courses in 1) two areas of specialization, 2) world literatures and cultures, and 3) literary and cultural theory. The reading lists for the comprehensive exams should reflect, complement, and strengthen the students’ knowledge in these areas of study. For the comprehensive exams, students must prepare and propose to the advisor and the program committee two main reading lists: a specialty list (non-thesis students) and a world literatures and cultures list.

ma exam infographic

 

Specialty List (Non-Thesis Students Only)

Students in the non-thesis option will prepare a list of works from their areas of specialty, divided into two sections: main area of specialization and critical approaches. The specialty list should include approximately 15 primary texts or works. The critical and cultural theory section should include about 10 texts covering at least two different critical approaches (i.e. feminism, postcolonial theory, psychoanalysis, etc.). The list must be approved by the advisor and the program committee.

World Literatures and Cultures List

Each student will prepare readings lists in two areas in world literatures and cultures, covering different historical periods, geographical areas, or genres.  The areas should be appropriately chosen to supplement the student’s specializations. It is recommended that students include at least one pre-modern and a non-Western literatures and cultures area.  The world literatures and cultures areas should not overlap with the two main areas in the specialty list. However, minor overlaps may be acceptable. Each of the two world literatures and cultures areas' lists should cover approximately 15 primary works, though some key critical or theoretical works may be included as well.

 

 

COMPREHENSIVE EXAM FORMAT

Non Thesis Option

MA candidates in the non thesis option will take two written comprehensive exams, the first one on the specialty areas and the second on the selected world literatures and cultures areas.  Each exam will consist of 1-2 essay questions in the form of a 72-hour, open-book, take-home examination. The comprehensive exam is taken over two days. The first day is for the areas of specialization. The second day is for the world literatures and cultures areas. If necessary, an oral exam will be scheduled to address weak areas in the written exams. Unless given special approval by the program director, the two written exams should be taken within six weeks of each other.

Thesis Option

MA candidates in the non thesis option will only take the world literatures and cultures exam.  The exam will consist of 1-2 essay questions in the form of a 72-hour, open-book, take-home examination.

 

Exam Goals and Evaluation

The goal of the specialty exam is to evaluate the students’ breadth and depth of knowledge in the field of specialization, their ability to place literary and cultural artifacts in broader historical contexts, and their capacity to synthesize the defining and most relevant elements of the selected historical periods. The specialty essay should discuss some representative works of the period and their historical and cultural background. The answer should also include references to important critical scholarship and debates on the period.  

As part of the specialty exam, students will write a critical approaches essay.  Students will have to analyze a particular work from their reading lists, applying one or two different critical approaches. Students may be asked to compare and contrast the usefulness of these critical approaches. The goal is to demonstrate a competent use of critical theory and advanced skills in literary and cultural analysis.

The goal of the World Literatures and Cultures exam is to demonstrate familiarity with and competent reading of a variety of works from different historical periods and regions of the world. In this exam, students will have to answer one or two essay questions on the world literature and cultures areas selected.

As a rough guideline, the student’s response to each of the two comprehensive examinations (Specialty and World Literatures and Cultures) should be a total of approximately 10-15 pages in length, typed (12pts) and double-spaced, and should include a list of works cited within that length, following MLA style.  If necessary, an oral exam with the examination committee will be set up to address deficiencies.