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EIU Master of Arts in English

Master's Examination


Students pursuing the MA examination option will prepare for and take the exam during their final semester of study (typically in their fourth semester). The MA exam comprises two parts: a 5-hour written exam and a 1-hour oral defense.

The Examination Committee

No later than the start of the semester prior to taking the exam (typically the third semester of study), the student should confer with the Graduate Studies Coordinator about his or her intent to take the exam. Once the student has talked over exam procedures with the Coordinator, he or she will need to select a faculty member to serve as reading director for English 5940 and, in consultation with the reading director, two other faculty members to serve on the examination committee. The reading director and the student will then develop a reading list for the exam.

The examination committee's primary responsibility is to develop and evaluate the exam. The committee must send a copy of the exam to the Graduate Studies Committee at least three weeks prior to the written exam. The examination committee will evaluate the written portion of the exam with a score of "pass with distinction," "pass," or "fail." A student must receive a score of at least "pass" before he or she may sit for the oral defense. The oral defense should be scheduled to take place within one week of the student’s learning s/he has passed the written portion and should be no longer than one hour. All members of the examination committee should be present at the oral defense.

The Petition

The student must petition the Graduate Studies Committee for approval of both the reading list and the examination committee. This petition should be sent to the Graduate Studies Committee no later than the thirteenth week of the semester. See rubric for traits used by the Graduate Studies Committee to evaluate the petition.

The petition should define the exam’s focus, describing a broad field of interest and within that a more specialized topic. For example, an exam in literary studies might focus on twentieth-century British literature (broad field) and within that on twentieth-century British fiction by women (specialized topic) or on a literary theory (broad field) and within that, specific texts to which that literary theory may be applied. An exam in rhetoric/composition might address genre theory (broad field) along with its relevance to the first-year composition classroom (specialized field). The broad field, in other words, should encompass a century, literary period, genre, theory, methodology, or some other broadly construed category. The more specialized topic should be a subcategory within it and may be as narrow as the work of a single author, but no narrower. The petition should explain the reason for the student’s interest, his or her background in the field, the relationship between the broad field and specialized topic, and the rationale underlying the reading list. All exam committee members should sign the petition to indicate their approval.

The reading list (in MLA style) should be attached to the petition. It should comprise a core body of knowledge on the selected subject and consist of those works on which the student will prepare to be questioned. The works need not be divided into broad vs. specialized topic; instead the petition itself should explain how the specific works listed relate to the exam’s broad field and more specialized topic. Where appropriate—in literary studies exam petitions, for example—the list should make a distinction between primary and secondary texts.

Examinees are encouraged to think of the exam petition and reading list as a contract, defining the material to be studied for the exam tutorial as well as the content of both the exam and its oral defense. See rubric for specific traits expected of exam petitions.

The Exam Tutorial

One member of the examination committee serves as the student's reading director, supervising English 5940 (MA Exam Tutorial), which the student takes during the semester of the exam. While enrolled in English 5940, the student is expected to meet regularly with his/her reading director to discuss works on the reading list in preparation for the exam.

Examination and Defense

The 5-hour examination should be divided into two parts: broad field and more specialized topic, with approximately equal time for each. The written exam may be divided into two parts over one or at most two days, as decided by the committee and student. The master’s exam should include a minimum of 50% essay and 20% short answer questions.

The reading director and the examination committee attend the defense, with the reading director presiding over it. The defense is open to all members of the English Department as well as the public. Reading directors should advise candidates on some appropriate method of advertisement (normally, flyers are posted on the third floor of Coleman Hall). The MA candidate is responsible for scheduling the date, time, and location of the defense so that all members of the examination committee may attend and so that the defense takes place before the last day to file for graduation.

Note: Faculty are often not available during the summer. Students who wish to defend during the summer should check with faculty and make the appropriate arrangements.

Note: As a rule, a student who fails either part of the exam must wait until the next semester to be re-examined. With permission of the reading director and the Graduate Studies Coordinator, the exam may be scheduled earlier. On failing a second time, the student shall not be allowed to continue in the graduate program without the express permission of the Graduate Studies Committee after full review of his or her qualifications and progress.


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