Preliminary Exam

The primary purpose of the preliminary examination is to determine if the student has acquired the specialized knowledge necessary for their proposed dissertation research. The preliminary exam is part of the Graduate School Requirements for the Ph.D. Degree. The exam has both a written and an oral component.

Eligibility & Timing

After students have completed their coursework, typically in the third year, they will take a preliminary examination. No student with outstanding incompletes will be allowed to take the preliminary examination in Literature.

Exam Format

This written part of the preliminary examination will involve the writing of two take home “papers” in response to questions developed by the student’s committee. Students will have 48 hours to complete each exam, and the two exams must be scheduled within 5 days of each other

  • Paper One will deal with a currently established academic field in which the student plans to do his or her teaching.
  • Paper Two will deal with a coherent field of study in which the student plans to do further research. Normally, this paper will focus on material likely to be the basis of the student’s dissertation.

Each of these areas will be defined by a reading list of 30-50 items drawn up on consultation with the chair of the student’s preliminary examination committee.

The written component of the exam will be followed by an oral defense to be scheduled within two weeks of the written exam, except under extraordinary circumstances. The entire examination will be overseen by a 4 or 5 person committee (a minimum of 2 members of the committee must be on the Literature faculty) drawn up in accord with Graduate School and GPL Regulations. 

Dissertation Committee

Students will nominate the members of their committee to the DGS at least 6 months before the exam, and must obtain approval of the DGS and the Dean of the Graduate School before they can proceed to work with this committee. The chair of this committee should be either a faculty member with expertise in the teaching field or the likely chair of the student’s dissertation committee.