The Comprehensive examination is given early in the spring semester for graduating
seniors and is required of all majors. It consists of two main parts, the first calling
for the identification of terms, lines from individual poems, or titles of literary
works. This part of the examination is taken first. The second half, taken over the
course of an entire day, consists of four written essays in response to broad questions
concerning literary history, critical theory, and genres.
The Exam in Detail
There are six sections in the comprehensive examination. They are detailed below.
Parts I & II (First testing period: 90 minutes)
I. Poem Identification.
You will be asked to identify title and poet from the comprehensive list of lyric
poems. For the Bible, use the King James version.
II. Poetric and Literary Terms and Rhertorical Figures
You will be given passages, and asked to identify various poetic, rhetorical, and
literary features. Can you tell terza rima from rime royal? Anaphora from anacrusis? A villanelle from a sestina?
Parts III-VI (Second testing periodL 9-11:30a.m., then lunch, then 1-3:30p.m.)
III. Poem Analysis.
You will be given a poem perhaps unknown to you at the time of the examination. You
will be expected to give a detailed and coherent reading of the poem, showing awareness
of technical matters such as figures of speech, form and scansion, as well as of thematic
or theoretical dimensions.
IV. Novel Question.
Here you will be given a few passages and asked to discuss the technical aspects
of the narrative (point of view, narrative time, style, narrative voice or persona,
gaps, free indirect discourse, etc.) in terms of the larger thematic questions that
the novels are raising in these passages. You should try to deploy the technical
analysis of the passage to lead to these larger points about the novels' artistic
aims. Do not get too stressed if all of this is new to you (though you might have
learned some of this in Lit Trad IV). In the early weeks of Literary Studies II ("Senior
Novel") you will review and etend your knowledge of narrative analysis and learn to
deploy these terms and concerpts in an analysis. You will want to study and work
hard in the early days of the class so you can do well in this part of comps..
V. Period Question.
a) First, you will be asked to place several event on a timeline to show your knowledge of the different periods' major political, social, cultural,
and other historical events. The timeline is contained in the study packet.
b) Then, you will be given a question containing passages from different periods;
your task will be to choose two (or at the most three) of these texts, and articulate
how they exemplify their respective periods. The best answers will anchor these differences
in close readings of the texts rather than drifting away into generalized thematic
VI. Integrative Question.
This question tests your ability to make defensible generalizations upon the works
of literature from widely separated historical epochs--drawing upon your knowledge
of the materials in the Literary Tradition sequence as well as upon a range of English
and American literature. It may pose a larger thematic or theoretical issue to examine
in several works.
Comprehensive Reading List