Comprehensive Examinations and Thesis for the M.A. Degree

Students in Rhetoric and Professional Writing area of study are required to write an M.A. thesis. Students in one of the other six areas of study may elect to write a thesis or take a comprehensive examination.

Comprehensive Examinations

We administer the comprehensive examination for the M.A. degree each semester, in October and in March. The M.A. comprehensive exam is an option for all areas of concentration except Rhetoric and Professional Writing.

View the upcoming exam schedule.

Examinations are four-hour, timed, closed-book exams. they are tailored to the plans of study in the M.A. program and are based on reading lists determined by examination committees. The list of texts changes with each offering of the exam.


British and American Literature

Reading List

Analysis of six texts (two from British literature before 1660, two from British literature after 1660 and two from American literature) and their place in historical and cultural context.

English Education

Reading List

Questions on the theory, research and methodologies of teaching the English language arts in middle and secondary schools. 

Film and Literature

Reading List

Three kinds of texts are set for this examination at the beginning of the semester: literary and cinematic theory; American and international cinema; and drama or fiction and their cinematic adaptations. The examination tests the ability to understand and use critical theory in literature and film analysis; to critique the literature-film relationship in adaptations; and to focus the issues and texts of literature-film research for pedagogical ends.


Reading List

Demonstration of a broad fundamental knowledge of linguistic theory and its applications. Subject areas include phonology, morphology/syntax and semantics/discourse analysis.

Literature and Rhetoric/Composition

Reading List

A two-part examination, one part in literature and one part in rhetoric. The literature section requires students to analyze three selected texts, posted the first week of each semester and to place them in historical context. The rhetoric section calls on students to relate selected rhetorical texts to the rhetorical tradition and to composition theory.

Rhetoric and Writing

Reading List

The exam covers readings in rhetorical theory and writing studies and students will answer questions on rhetoric and writing theory and practice.

TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages)

Reading List

Questions on TESOL theory and methodology; on core areas in linguistics; and on specialized areas in linguistics.


M.A. Thesis

The M.A. thesis fulfills the comprehensive examination requirement for the degree. 

The thesis project is an original work of scholarship that makes a contribution of knowledge to the field. It is written with the guidance of a committee of three members of the graduate faculty, one of whom will serve as the director of the thesis. 

The thesis requires the following steps:

  • Formation of a committee;
  • Writing of a thesis proposal, which must be approved by the committee (and sometimes defended before the committee);
  • Submission of paperwork to the Institutional Review Board (IRB);
  • Research and writing of the thesis. under direction of the committee; 
  • Deposit of thesis at the Graduate School, meeting university deadlines for graduation.

Work on the thesis should begin no later than one calendar year before the anticipated graduation date. You can find forms and deadlines at the Graduate School's Student Resources.