Comprehensive Exam: Writing Studies Emphasis

English Master of Arts Program

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The comprehensive examination for the M.A. in English with Emphasis on Writing Studies is administered by the candidate's examining committee. Traditionally, the examining committee consists of three members from the Departments of English 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 on two days. There will be some choice of questions. They will assume the student's general familiarity with the diversity of the Writing Studies discipline, as well as detailed knowledge of the chosen works.

Part One: Primary Text and Selected Secondary Texts (Two Hours)

One part, lasting two hours, is based on an approved text (a literary work, critical/theoretical work, or electronic text such as a web site). The text must be selected and the examining committee approve it at least four weeks before the examination. A list of 5-8 secondary works read in conjunction with the preparation of the text is to be submitted at the same time; complete bibliographical information should be included for these works.

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: Readings in Writing Studies (Three Hours)

The second part, lasting three hours, is based on three reading lists approved by the three examining committee members. The lists must be approved at least four weeks prior to the examination; ideally, reading lists should be prepared by the candidate gradually and more or less continuously as courses are completed. These reading lists represent a range of critical approaches, methods, and applications that compose the field of Writing Studies. 

In devising the three lists in collaboration with the committee members, the student should observe the following recommendations, which are pending Graduate Faculty approval:

1. All three lists should consist of whole works, substantial parts of whole works, or groups of works, and collectively total at least 25-30 texts from a diversity of authors and/or genres.

2. To enable some degree of comprehensiveness, texts on the three lists should be chosen more or less equally from the following three areas, which represent the diverse and emergent field of Writing Studies as well as the course offerings in our program. Alternatives to this format must be discussed with and approved by the Exam Committee Chair and the Director of Graduate Studies:

Writing, Composition, and/or Language

    • Rhetoric
    • Linguistics
    • Composition
    • Writing Pedagogy
    • The History of Writing
    • The Rhetoric of Literature
    • Genre and Discourse Theory

Literature, Literary Criticism, Theory, and/or History

    • Literary Studies/History
    • Literary and/or Cultural Theory
    • The History of Genres
    • Book History
    • The Literary Marketplace

Media and/or Culture

    • Visual Rhetoric
    • Information Design/New Media
    • Digital Humanities
    • Studies in Writing and Culture
    • Cultural Studies
    • Print Culture
    • Economic Approaches to the Study of Literature or Culture

The items below each category are suggestive rather than definitive, and there may be some overlap among these areas. The candidate and committee members, however, should confer while developing the lists to ensure comprehensive coverage and avoid duplication.

Part Three: Related Field, Minor Field, or Synthetic Option (One Hour)

The third part, lasting an hour, is based either on

    • the student's work in the related field or minor and covering a reading list drawn up by the candidate in consultation with the related or minor field committee representative
    • OR a set of questions by the examination committee asking the candidate to draw synthetic connections among works from literary, rhetorical, linguistic, compositional, and cultural-studies methods.

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."