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Reading List Exam

Your Reading List Exam is your chance to gain an in-depth knowledge of three areas of interest.  Many students use this opportunity to begin working on their thesis; others use it to "fill in gaps" prior to taking the subject GRE's; still others use it to prepare for classroom teaching. You will be examined on three of the following categories:

  • A period
  • An author  
  • A genre
  • A critical or theoretical approach

How you define these categories is entirely up to you. For instance, you could choose to study Medieval French Literature (period), Arthurian Romance (genre), and Post-Colonialism (approach); Charles Dickens (author), the novel (genre), and the 19th century (period); or Digital Media (genre), Contemporary Rhetoric (period), and Ethnographic Study (approach).

In order to prepare to take your exam, you need to:

  • Meet with the MA director by the middle of your second semester to identify your categories and discuss your exam committee.
  • Identify three committee members and work with them to generate your lists. (See sample reading lists.)
  • Submit the Reading List Form and your reading lists to the MA director by June 1st.
  • Schedule your exam for no later than the second week of your third semester.

Once you have successfully completed your exam, request your committee members to return the Reading List Exam Rubric to the MA director.

Expectations

  1. Read EVERYTHING on your lists. Not having read a text is grounds for failure.

  2. As you read, underline important passages and take notes on the text. Later condense your notes into the most important points and study these.

  3. In your notes, make connections. How is gender represented variously in a few of your texts? Which main ideas from the literary criticism you've read are played out in which of your texts? How do a few of the novels on your list violate basic generic conventions? What is a recurring theme in the literature you have chosen? How is it treated differently by different authors? These are the sort of broad questions you can be sure to be asked. 

  4. You may not bring any notes or note cards with you to the Oral Exams. You must remember the information and be ready to synthesize it in new ways according to your examiners' questions.

  5. You may ask questions to gain clarification from your examiners.

  6. Although rare, in the event that committee members believe areas of the Oral Exams need further work, students have two additional opportunities to retake sections of the exam.

  7. At the Oral Exams, you must display your acumen as a critical thinker and close reader. Statements such as "I really liked this character" or "I couldn't stand this novel" are out of place as Oral Exams responses unless they lead into a deeper analysis of the work.

  8. Come in to your Oral Exams prepared to present your own big, broad ideas about the works you have read. For example, do you see an evolution occurring in the works of your major author from early to later publications?  

  9. If you can't answer a question, say so, and then try to re-frame the question so that you can answer it.

  10. As you prepare for your Oral Exams, you need to meet at least twice with each committee member. During these appointments, you should get a sense for the kinds of questions this person may pose.  

  11. Even better is to set up a regular schedule of meetings with your Oral Exams committee members and discuss your ideas with them. 

  12. The Oral Exams typically take about 90 minutes.

  13. After your Orals, you must write a 7- to 10-page detailed thesis proposal with an annotated bibliography. Usually this paper must go through several revisions to achieve the necessary clarity and depth.


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Master of Arts in English

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