The Master's Examination in English
The Masterís examination in English, commonly referred to as the Comprehensive Exam or comps, is composed of two parts. For students in the Literature option, Part I is designed to test a studentís grasp of a specific historical period. For students in the Composition, Rhetoric and Language option, Part I tests a student's grasp of all three components of the option. Part II of the exam is the same for all students and tests their ability to treat formal, critical problems.
Part I (Literature Option): Examination on a Historical Period
No later than two quarters before the student sits for the examination, she or he must select a historical period from the list provided by the Department and inform the Graduate Studies Committee of his/her choice. The student may either prepare the texts recommended by the Committee or may substitute equivalent texts of her or his choosing. All substitutions must be approved by the Committee at the time of the original selection. After approval of a revised list, no other substitution may be made without petitioning the Committee, and no changes may be made during the quarter in which the student sits for the examination. The historical portion of the examination is three hours.
The student is not only accountable for the texts listed for each period, but is also, and more importantly, responsible for an understanding of the nature of the particular historical period itself. The selected texts, then, are to be considered as foci or exemplars by means of which the student will demonstrate her or his broader knowledge. In no sense does the Committee wish to suggest that a thorough knowledge of any period can be achieved by merely preparing the selected items. The pursuit of the objective of acquiring a "sense of the past" can be gained only through investigating other diverse sources, including social, intellectual, and literary histories; critical studies; and other primary texts of the authors of the period. See the current list of selected texts for each historical period.
Part I (Composition, Rhetoric and Language Option)
The examination is divided into two areas: (1) Composition and Rhetoric and (2) Language and Literacy. A list of selected texts, representing a comprehensive range of theories, research, and issues in the field, has been constructed for each area. To prepare for the examination, students, in consultation with the Composition, Rhetoric and Language advisor, select five to seven texts from each area list for a total of ten to fourteen primary texts. Questions will not, however, be based on specific texts; rather, students are expected to use the selected texts (as well as any others that may be relevant) to demonstrate a broad understanding of issues in the field and way in which rhetorical and literacy theories and composition/linguistic research inform their understanding of these issues. The three-hour examination is divided into two ninety minute segments, one for Composition and Rhetoric and one for Language and Literacy. Copies of the Composition, Rhetoric and Language reading lists are available in the Advisement Office.
Part II: Critical Analysis of Texts
The second portion of the Masterís examination focuses on critical analysis of a specific text or group of related texts. The emphasis in this portion is on the studentís ability to elucidate and interpret primary texts. Thus, although the student is expected to be familiar with significant theories, what matters in this portion is not so much to what extent the student "knows" theories but how well she or he can use theoretical insights and suitable discourse(s) to explicate the "content of the textís form" and/or to re-evaluate and re-envision the text. In the spirit of contemporary theory, critical thinking or active reading skills are, therefore, crucial. Whether the critical method is rhetorical, formalist, structuralist, psychoanalytical, Marxist, feminist, narratologist, post-colonial, deconstructionist, or, as is often the case, a combination of two or more methods, the student must bring to light, through "close reading" of the textís rhetorical strategies or semiotic codes, its artistic, social, historical, and cultural implications and may critique certain values embodied in the form.
At least two quarters before the examination, the Committee will announce the primary text or texts for this portion of the examination. The formal portion of the examination is three hours long.