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Written Exam Guidelines


The Format of the Written Exam

The written exam as a whole consists of three separate exams which are based upon the student’s coursework. The student takes one exam in American literature, one exam in British literature, and one exam in rhetoric, creative writing, and/or theory. Each exam consists of two questions. The student is allowed to spend four hours on each separate exam (or two hours per question). The student takes one exam per day during the course of a single week.

Choosing an Exam Advisor and Forming the Exam Committee

Graduate students who choose the written exam option should identify an exam advisor with the assistance of the Graduate Coordinator. With the exam advisor’s assistance, the student will then identify two more English department faculty members to sit on the exam committee. The committee must include one faculty member from each of the following three content areas: 1) British literature; 2) American literature; and, 3) rhetoric, writing, or theory. Each committee member is responsible for writing the exam questions for the part of the written exam relating to his or her content area.

Preparing for the Written Exam

Well before the written exam, the student must submit a detailed reading list based on all of his or her coursework to the exam committee. The English department committee members will use this reading list to prepare their exam questions. To assist with the development of these exam questions, the student should be prepared to submit syllabi from the courses listed to committee members upon request. For this reason, it is essential that students save the syllabi from all of the courses they take during their time in the program. The student should apply for graduation during the semester he or she intends to sit for the written exam.

Scheduling the Written Exam

The written exam should be scheduled two weeks prior to the oral exam. Meanwhile, the oral exam should be scheduled at least a week prior to the Graduate School’s capstone component completion deadline in order to give the student time to retake or revise any portion of the written exam he or she does not pass. (Note: the capstone component deadline is different from the oral exam deadline for thesis students).

Taking the Written Exam

The exam advisor is responsible for administering the written exam to the student and should request exam questions from the other English department faculty committee members prior to the written exam. The student is not allowed to use textbooks, notes, or other course materials during the written exam. Exceptions may be made only if committee members agree there are unusual or extenuating circumstances that will make it difficult or impossible for a student to complete a specific part of the written exam without the use of certain course materials. After the student completes the written exam, the exam advisor will submit copies of the full exam to the other committee members. Throughout this process, the student must be mindful of the deadlines set by the Graduate School, including deadlines for the graduation application and the capstone component. These deadlines can be found on the Graduate School’s web site at