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Master of Arts in English

(Download the M.A. Exam List 2014–editions)

I. Hours and Courses

The English Department operates primarily under Plan B, as specified in the University Bulletin and described at length in the Graduate Handbook. This plan requires 27 hours of course work and a written examination. Students must take a minimum of THREE 500 level seminars (9 credits). English 590 (Special Reading or Research—Independent Study) does NOT count toward this 9 credit minimum. Six hours of graduate work may be transferred from another institution or another CWRU department, on application to the Director of Graduate Studies. Students must take English 510 (Research and Methods), English 400 (Teaching Composition), and English 487 (Critical Theory); in addition they may take a maximum of four courses in any one of the areas listed below, and must take at least one in each of the other three. These areas are:

1. British Literature through the 18th Century
2. 19th-and 20th-Century British Literature (including Commonwealth/postcolonial literature)
3. American Literature
4. Other department offerings including linguistics, rhetoric, critical theory, film, and creative writing.



Year 1 Fall: 3 courses Spring: 2 courses + Reading for MA Exam
Year 2 Fall: 2 courses + MA exam Spring: 2 courses


II. The MA Exam

In normal circumstances, students should take the MA examination in the fall of their second year. Even in exceptional cases, students must take the MA examination no later than one semester after completing courses and credit-hour requirements for the degree. The examination is administered primarily in the fall, usually during the first week of November. In the occasion it is offered in the spring, it will ordinarily be administered in the week following Spring Break in March.
The exam reading list of 15 works (in the case of poetry, selections constitute a “work”) is posted on the Department’s Graduate Website as soon as it is approved by the Graduate Committee each year. Each year in December, two new works are added and two older works are removed. The new list is good for both semesters of the next academic year. Students are responsible for reading critical materials on these texts as well as on the genres and historical periods they come from and are welcome to consult faculty with expertise in the periods and genres as they prepare.

A file of questions used on past MA exams is available from the Department Administrator for students to photocopy and use. There are also a few sample answers available to study.
The exam itself is a take-home exam, completed over the course of one week, consisting of TWO essays based on TWO comparative questions, one provided by the student and one provided by the committee.

These essays will be approximately 10-12pp. each and will require each student to write a critically informed comparison of texts from different genres and historical periods. They will also require the student to demonstrate competence in close reading in both essays. Each student will be responsible for formulating ONE of these questions based on his or her individual interests; the Graduate Committee will formulate the second question and give it to the student one week before the due date of the exam.

Each student should work with his or her MA advisor to formulate an individualized question which shall be submitted to the graduate committee in October of the fall semester (February, if the exam is offered in the spring). The graduate committee will then approve, amend, or send the question back for revision and resubmission. For the essay that is based on the student’s own question, the texts will be chosen by the Graduate Committee. For the essay based on the Graduate Committee’s question, the texts will be chosen by the student. Students will be required to discuss at least FIVE texts over the course of these two essays, and to include close readings (on passages of their choice) in each. Students will have ONE WEEK to complete and submit the essays after receiving the committees designated question and instructions about texts.

A student must be registered during the semester in which the examination is taken. If not registered for other courses, the student will be required to register for one semester hour of EXAM 600, Comprehensive Examination, in order to take the exam.


If an exam is deemed inadequate, the student will be required to retake the exam in the following semester with the same list of texts but new questions. This may include the summer term if the student feels adequately prepared for the retake and if there are enough members of the Graduate Committee available (minimum 3) to evaluate the exam.

If an exam is deemed not strong enough to pass, but not a clear failure, the Graduate Committee, instead of issuing an outright failure, will have the option to conduct an oral exam of one hour, asking the student questions about various texts on the list. If the student fails this oral exam, then the written exam will need to be retaken in the following semester, as described above. Failure a second time on the written exam will result in separation from the program without the award of the degree.


III. Thesis Option (Plan A):

Students permitted to write a thesis will take, as part of the 27-hour requirement, six hours of thesis work (English 651), including an oral defense of thesis before a committee consisting of the student’s thesis director and two other examiners appointed by the Chair of the Department (who may delegate this authority to the Graduate Director). The vote of the examining committee to accept the thesis must be unanimous.

• Coursework: 21 hours (minimum of 9 hours of 500 level seminars)
• Thesis: 6 hours
• Total: 27 hours

Once registered for 651 (always for a minimum of 3 hours), a student must continue to be registered until graduating. After two semesters of 651 at three hours per semester, a student may register for 651 at 1 credit hour for two semesters at her or his own expense. This is an inducement to finish. After this, the student must go back to registering for 3 credit hours at her or his expense. These hours would be above the 27 hours required for the degree, and beyond tuition covered by a teacher assistantship.