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

The examination will involve the writing of two take-home “papers” in response to questions developed by the student’s committee, followed by an oral defense. The written component is divided into two separate exams, one for the Teaching Field Reading List and one for the Dissertation Field Reading List. Students will have 48 hours to complete each exam, and the two exams must be scheduled within 5 days of each other. The DGSA will email the exam questions, requiring a delivery and read receipt, and receive your responses within the 48-hour deadline, to distribute to your committee.  This will be followed by a two-hour oral defense to be scheduled within two weeks of the written exams.

The preliminary examination tests a student on two different yet fundamentally related reading lists: The Teaching Field Reading List (TFRL) and the Dissertation Field Reading List (DFRL). The TFRL is explicitly situated in relation to professional categories and distinctions (for example, in literary, cinema and media, and cultural criticism). In short, it highlights a student's field(s) of specialization: e.g., Anglo-Irish modernism, post-WWII America, colonial Latin American, the long eighteenth century in France and Britain. The DFRL is unique to the Program in Literature in the sense that it consists primarily of critical and theoretical readings across disciplines, which form the methodological basis of a student's long-term research project(s): e.g., postcolonial theory, Deleuze and cinema, British cultural studies, continental political philosophy.

In general, the written exams will test your competency in the debates, practices, and current controversies in their fields, your readiness to offer a range of both general and special topic courses in your Teaching Field, and your ability to begin to carve out the scholarly contribution that you bring to ongoing academic conversations in your Dissertation Field.

A student should consult with their preliminary examination committee for the ideal number of materials to be represented on each list. It is standard to preface each list with a brief rationale to orient all committee members in preparation for your exams.

The oral exam takes place in a two-hour session, to be scheduled within two weeks of the submission date of the second written exam. You will be examined on all the exam materials (the two reading lists, the two syllabi, and your answers for the two written exams) with some discussion at the end devoted to your plans for the dissertation. 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.