Life for me aint been no crystal stair.  Langston Hughes

Qualifying Examinations

Students who elect Track 1 must complete 33 hours of coursework in the program, including the required courses. After all coursework is finished, students must pass the M. A. Exam in order to be awarded the degree. This track is appropriate for students who wish to take more coursework than the thesis option requires or who do not need the kind of research experience a thesis project provides.


The exam consists of two essays written in a total of four hours. The purpose of the exam is for students to demonstrate a range of skills and knowledge in literary study, including familiarity with a variety of approaches to literature. Students will choose two of the following areas to write on, which correspond with the core courses in the program:

  • major author
  • literary-historical period
  • literary genre
  • criticism and theory

The Exam Committee

The committee is made up of two faculty members of the student's choosing and the Graduate Program Director. At least one semester before taking the exam, the student will choose and consult with a faculty member specializing in one of the selected examination areas. This faculty member will serve as the student's exam advisor. She or he will help the student to select another faculty member to serve as an area specialist.

The Reading Lists: In consultation with each student's advisor and area specialist, the student will draw up a separate reading list for each area of the exam. The student will submit the preliminary reading lists to the faculty advisor and area specialist, who will revise them. The advisor will then submit them to the Graduate Program Director for final approval. (This step helps to insure consistency among the various exam committees over time.) The reading lists will consist of major primary texts as well as significant critical works in the field.

The Exam

Students will arrange, with the Graduate Program Director, a date for the four-hour exam period during either the Fall or Winter semesters. (Students may choose to write for a single four-hour period or two two-hour periods on the same day.)  The exam must be scheduled by the third week of the semester. The exam will present the student with a choice of questions from which the student will choose two, one from each of the selected areas.


Both exam essays will be read by the student's advisor and area specialist. Both readers will assign to each exam essay one of the following grades: High Pass, Pass, or Fail. If the two readers disagree on their rating, the Graduate Program Director will serve as third reader.

A student who fails one or both parts of the exam may retake one or both parts during the following semester with the same reading list, but new essay topics will be selected. Students may retake the exams once.

Any student who does not earn a passing score after two attempts will not be awarded the degree and will not be eligible to retake the exam. However, a student who does not earn a passing score on the M. A. exam may, with the permission of the Graduate Program Director, and in consultation with the student's faculty advisor and area specialist, be allowed to propose a thesis project. If accepted, the student must register for six hours of thesis credit. As in every case, the student's thesis prospectus must be approved before the student can register for thesis credits (see Thesis Preparation for details).

Page last modified February 16, 2015