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

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.)

Parts III-VI

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 to consider.

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

Poetic Terms


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