General Examination for Ph.D. Students

Literary and Cultural Studies and Composition/Rhetoric/Literacy

The General Examination is the culmination of the student's coursework and his or her general preparation for doctoral work, before admission to doctoral candidacy. It should therefore test:

(a) the overall knowledge of his or her chosen Primary and Secondary Fields which the student has acquired through coursework and independent preparation; and

(b) his or her skills as a researcher, scholar, and critic in Literary and Cultural Studies or Composition/Rhetoric/Literacy.

The student's overall knowledge of his or her chosen Primary and Secondary Fields should be tested for its historical, generic, thematic, and critical depth and breadth.

The General Examination should be designed, administered, and evaluated by the student's committee. The fifth (outside) member may or may not be involved, along with the first four members, in setting and reading the written component; but all five members must be present for theoral component. The General Examination will have a written component and an oral component. The Examination should preferably be taken in the semester immediately after the one in which coursework is completed, and no later than the third semester after completion of coursework. The written and oral components must be taken in the same semester.

Students must file their Advisory Conference Report (ACR) with the Graduate College in the semester before they sit for the General Exams; they must also file the General Exam Application for the Doctoral Dissertation at least ten days before the written portion of the exams. The forms and deadlines can be found here on the Graduate College’s website.

Written Component
The written component will have two parts: (a) Part One based on a reading list of at least 50 items in the Primary Field; (b) Part Two based on a reading list of at least 30 items in the Secondary Field. Both parts may also call for at least 25 items in Literary Criticism and Theory.

Specifically, doctoral candidates draft three exam questions for the Primary Field and two questions for the Secondary Field and submit them to their Committee. These questions should exhaust the materials on the reading lists, but they need not necessarily "cover" the whole list. Students will still be responsible for books not discussed in the written exams during their orals.

When the Committee approves final versions of the questions, the exam must be taken no more than 30 days later. The Committee will choose one question from each set of exam questions (Primary and Secondary) for the exam. The two parts of the written component will be presented to the student at 8am on a workday morning and the written answers to their questions shall be returned to the Graduate Office at or before 5pm on a workday four consecutive days following the day the exam was received (for a total of 5 consecutive days).

Ph.D. General Exam Schedule

Receive exam at 8:00 AM on:

Turn in exam by 5:00 PM on:







Oral Component
The oral component should be about 2 hours long and should focus on the reading lists for the Primary and Secondary Fields. The oral component will provide an opportunity for both the student and the Committee to review, analyze, contextualize, and supplement the written component. Students should expect to be questioned on items from their reading lists not alluded to in the written component of the exam. Ability to demonstrate to the Committee familiarity and comprehension of the works on the reading lists is expected for the successful completion of the oral component.

While a student is preparing for the General Examination, he or she should register for Directed Readings credit with the Chair of his or her Committee (maximum 6 credit hours allowed for this purpose). The General Examination should be graded Fail, Pass, or Pass with Distinction. Only two attempts will be allowed, with a maximum interval of two semesters between them.

Literary and Cultural Studies
Composition, Rhetoric and Literacy

Area of Concentration | Ph.D. Advisement | Credit Hours
Foreign Language Requirement | Teaching Requirement
General Examination | Dissertation | Annual Evaluation
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