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
Terms and Identifications: The identification of lines from poems is based on the list of lyrics on the Comprehensive
Reading List (see link below); the identification and the demonstration of ability
to use poetic and literary terms are based on terms covered in English 3324 and 4363.
(See link below.)
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.
Novel Question: This will be a broad question on some thematic or theoretical aspect of the novel,
requiring some understanding of technical aspects of fiction (e.g., point of view,
narrative style, temporal shifts in narrative, etc.). You should also be able to discuss
novels in light of the particular cultural moment they reflect: thus you should attempt
to place these novels chronologically in relation to the period in which they were
written. You may be asked about specific novels, or you may be given a choice of novels
Period Question: You will choose one of two questions of specific literary periods (for example: one
question on the Romantic period, another on the Renaissance). In answering this question,
you should know the following things about the period: its dates and the dates of
major historical or literary events within it, the implications of this historical
context upon the literature, some predominant themes or questions which the literature
of the period addresses. You should have in mind for each period a group of representative
writings which you can draw upon in your response. The periods upon which you may
be examined upon are the following: Medieval, Early Modern, Eighteenth Century, Twentieth
Century, Romantic, Victorian, American (nineteenth and twentieth century).
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