MFA Comprehensive Exam

1. When the Exam Will Be Administered:

A. Students are usually advised to sign-up for the exam the semester before they expect to turn in their thesis: i.e. usually the semester before their expected graduation date. But some students elect to take the exam the semester they turn in their thesis (and expect to graduate). 

2. Reading List Described:

  1. The MFA Comprehensive Exam requires students to write three essays: one in the primary genre, one in the secondary genre, and one that asks students to reflect on the experience of writing their thesis. For the exam you will be required to cite (include brief close readings from) approximately 6 to 8 works in the primary and 3 to 4 in the secondary. In order to be prepared for a variety of essay prompts, we recommend that students read widely in both of their genres--certainly from more works than ultimately required to be cited on the exam. In consultation with their thesis directors, students will devise a personalized list consisting of a narrower selection of works from the lists (described below) as well as any additional works of comparable literary quality that they find pertinent to their writing and/or scholarship.

  2. You should confer with your thesis director (and readers) several times during the semester prior to taking the exam to develop your final version of your reading list. Only works on this personalized, director-approved list will be cited on the exam.

  3. You may substitute up to 4 works of your own choosing on your Primary Genre reading; and up to 2 works in your secondary genre. Works that you substitute must be material that your Thesis Committee members approve. You should avoid substituting works that your Committee members are not knowledgeable of. 

3. The Questions and Exam Procedure

  1. Three essay questions will be assigned to students, who will receive the exam prompts on Friday, 9:00 AM, and must turn in their examinations no later than Monday, 5 PM. The students will not know in advance exactly what specific topics or issues will be covered in the exam. The exam questions in general require students to demonstrate their skills in the following:
        1. Close reading of texts
        2. Application of literary theory and/or poetics--when appropriate or relevant
        3. Demonstration of knowledge of literart craft within the student's primary or secondary genres
        4. Demonstration of knowledge of the Modern and Postmodern canon(s) within the primary and secondary genres. Including issues of how canons change (or have changed) to become more inclusive and to represent a wider range of traditions and/or counter-canons.
        5. Demonstration of the student's understanding of their own literary production in relation to the works of other writers.
  2. Generic Description of Questions:
        1. Primary Genre Question: Will concern craft, historical, theoretical, critical, and/or canonical issues concerning works from the exam reading list in the candidate’s primary genre.
        2. Secondary Genre Question: Will concern craft, historical, theoretical, and/or critical issues in the student's secondary genre. Students will write their answer based on reading works from their secondary genre’s reading list.
        3. Thesis Question: The third question will concern craft, historical, theoretical, and/or critical issues relating to the student's own creative writing thesis, described in relation to their work’s connection to (or the influence of) other writers in the student's primary genre. Secondary genre influences may also be discussed (but are not required to be) in their answer.

4. Reading Lists