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Comprehensive Exams

Comprehensive Exams

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 abstractions.   

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

Poetic Terms