Lit Comps:Main

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Overview of Comprehensive Examinations in Literature

Schedule for junior and senior years

  • In April of your junior year (specific deadline TBA): submit study list proposal. Click here for instructions.
  • Summer before senior year/fall of senior year: read any new works listed on your study list and review familiar works
  • Winter Term senior year: register for LI498 (Comprehensive Exams). Students taking the exam meet periodically throughout winter term for group review and oral presentations (to be discussed with faculty facilitator).
  • Last Wednesday and Friday of Winter Term: written examination is held on each of the two days from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Students will be allowed up to four hours, as needed, each day.

Components of the written exam

Day 1

Literary Terms (30 minutes)

You will be provided a list of 60-80 terms. Prepare to address each with a one or two sentence definition and an example which demonstrates that you understand how the term is used in literary study. On the exam you will be given some ten to twelve terms, of which you must choose eight to ten. (The exact number will be specified.) You will need to mind the time constraints, and try to be succinct and accurate.

Literary History Reading List, part 1 (2 and 1/2 hours)

You will be asked to write three essays, at least one each from three categories:

  1. English Literature before 1800
  2. English Literature after 1800, and
  3. American Literature

Within each category there will be a choice of questions. The essay questions will ask you to address your learning from a comprehensive perspective--for instance, by comparing and contrasting works and characteristics of different literary periods. Prepare to write your answers in essay form, addressing the question(s) asked, and demonstrating clear ideas with specific evidence.

Day 2

Literary History Reading List, part 2 (45 min)

The literary history part of the exam continues. You will answer one question (from a choice of questions) in the category of Comparative Literature.

Literary Criticism (45 min)

The reading list indicates a minimum of several important works of literary criticism with which you should be familiar. During this portion of the exam you will be asked to choose from two or more questions concerning major topics in the history of literary criticism and theory.

Critical Exercise (1 and 1/2 hours)

In the Fall, seniors taking the literature comprehensives will be asked to select one genre (drama, fiction, or poetry) in which they wish to specialize. The faculty in literature will select a recent book in each genre, and students will be notified of the title and author. You will then purchase a copy and read, study, and evaluate your book during the preparation period in January.

During the exam each student will be given questions especially addressed to the student’s choice of genre: One part of this Critical Exercise will require that you be analytic, responding to questions such as: How do you analyze and interpret your book, using literary concepts? How does it draw upon or compare to other works in the genre, historical and contemporary? The other part will require you to be evaluative, responding to questions which ask: In your educated opinion, what is the value of this work as literature?