Literature Program

MA Comps: The Process

The M.A. Comprehensive Examination is a written exam whose individualized questions are produced by each student in the fall semester, and answered by their respective authors in the spring semester. Both the questions and the answers are subject to the evaluation of the M.A. Comps Committee, composed of three members of the department’s graduate faculty; membership on this Committee rotates among faculty members, always including one member from the previous year and one tenured member (these two members might or might not be the same person); additionally, every member of the committee will have taught at least one UA English graduate course.

In the fall, each MA-Lit student should construct a personalized description of his/her UA English graduate coursework and graduate papers, both completed and in-process; and should propose a set of four examination questions based upon this individualized set of graduate experiences. This description and set of questions should be submitted electronically to the Assistant to the Director of Graduate Studies by the third Monday of November; the Assistant to the DGS will then circulate the examination materials to the MA Comps Committee. The Committee will review these materials and either approve questions as written or require specific revisions to one or more portions of each student’s materials.

Students will receive notice of the committee’s decision prior to the end of fall classes; students must complete all required revisions and resubmit their complete materials to the Assistant to the DGS by the first Monday of the Spring semester. At that point, the Committee will either clear each student to take the exam, or, on the basis of insufficiently refined materials, find a student ineligible for the exam. Although their assistantships will continue through the end of the Spring semester, students found ineligible for the exam will not be permitted to graduate with the degree of MA in English. In recognition of the seriousness of such a decision, the Committee’s written rational for the judgment of ineligibility will be forwarded as a matter of course to the Director of Graduate Studies, who will review the student’s materials and the Committee’s rationale before rendering a final decision about the student’s qualification to take the exam.

In the spring, usually in the first week of March, each MA-Lit student will write responses to two of his/her final questions. The MA Comprehensive Examinations are administered at the same time and in a similar format as the annual MA-TESOL exams: the Assistant to the DGS will provide students with a choice of examination days and times; each student must select from among these choices two days on which to write his/her responses; each day, the student will be presented with a set of two of his/her examination questions, selected by the Committee; he/she should choose one of those questions to which to respond during the 90-minute examination period. Hence, by the end of the examination process, students will write responses to two of their original four questions over a total span of three hours.

The Committee will then read each student’s responses, talk collectively about these responses, and then, on the basis of consensus whenever possible, assign him/her a final grade of Distinction, Pass, or Fail.

Ideally no later than the Thursday before Spring Break, students’ exam results will be communicated to the Assistant to the DGS, who will inform individual examinees. Students awarded a failing grade on the exam will have one opportunity to retake it: during a set of days and times arranged in advance with the Assistant to the DGS, and no later than the end of March, a student will respond to the two questions to which he/she did not write answers during his/her first attempt of the exam. Once again, the Committee will read the student’s responses and assign him/her a final grade of Pass or Fail. (Distinction is not a possible result for those taking the exam a second time.) Students found to have failed the exam a second time will not be permitted to graduate with the degree of MA in English. In recognition of the seriousness of such a decision, the Committee’s written rationale for the judgment of failure will be forwarded as a matter of course to the Director of Graduate Studies.

Next: The Rationale.