Candidacy Examinations

All Ph.D. students must pass three Ph.D. candidacy examinations: two written and one oral.

Written Candidacy Examinations

Ph.D Exam Schedule Fall 2022-Fall 2025
Description Fall 2022 Spring 2023 Fall 2023 Spring 2024 Fall 2024 Spring 2025 Fall 2025
Area XV proposal due (if applicable) February 7 September 2 February 10 September 1 February 9 September 6 February 7
Director closes applications March 28 October 31 March 31 October 20 March 29 October 25 March 28
Exam Committee administers exam August 8 January 3 August 7 January 2 August 5 January 2 August 4
Director announces results to students September 16 January 27 September 15 February 9 September 13 February 14 September 12

The written examinations are open-book, take-home but timed exams, each taking place over a two-day period. Students are expected to demonstrate that they possess an adequate body of information and the ability to make use of standard critical methodologies and techniques. Exams are graded anonymously by a committee of three graduate faculty members.

The two written examinations are selected from the following fields of study (each area listed below links to the respective Statement of Expectation and Reading List):

  1. Linguistics (PDF)
  2. Medieval literature (PDF)
  3. English literature from 1500 to 1600 (PDF)
  4. English literature from 1600 to 1660 (PDF)
  5. British literature from 1660 to 1800 (PDF)
  6. British literature from 1800 to 1900 (PDF)
  7. British literature since 1900 (PDF)
  8. American literature to 1865 (PDF)
  9. American literature since 1865 (PDF)
  10. African-American literature (PDF)
  11. British and American women’s literature since 1750 (PDF)
  12. Film and literature (PDF)
  13. Rhetoric (PDF)
  14. Writing studies (PDF)
  15. A special field as determined by an examination committee and student in consultation.

Written candidacy examinations are normally offered twice a year: in August and in January. For admission to the examinations, you must:

  • Complete at least 20 of the 30 hours of graduate course work in the doctoral program of study;
  • Pass foreign language requirements

Applications are sent out at the beginning of October for the January exam date and at the beginning of March for the August exam date.

In preparation for the examinations, you should:

  • Consult the reading lists established for the examinations. A disciplined plan of independent reading guided by the lists is encouraged from early in the program, as soon as your fields of interest are defined;
  • Consult the file of previous candidacy examinations in the reserve area of Founders Memorial Library;
  • Consult with members of your examination committee prior to the examination (you are not obliged to do so if you prefer anonymity).

Oral Candidacy Examination

The oral examination is a defense of the your dissertation proposal, including its relation to the larger body of relevant knowledge in the field.

This exam will be administered by the your dissertation committee. Within six months of the date when you pass the written candidacy exams, you should prepare and defend the dissertation prospectus. The prospectus should consist of an essay that outlines and provides a rationale for your dissertation’s hypothesis, places it in the context of scholarship in the field, explains its anticipated methodology, and provides a tentative outline of the dissertation.

The purpose of the oral examination of the dissertation prospectus is to further your progress toward the dissertation by evaluating your prospectus, asking questions, and making recommendations to sharpen the project. To this end the committee will examine you for a period of one hour and consider the following:

  • The clarity and viability of the hypothesis or set of research questions as suitable for development into a monograph (a 200-page study of a single subject);
  • The quality, scope, and depth of the ideas, questions, and methodologies around which you will develop the project;
  • Your readiness to narrow or enlarge the scope of the project;
  • Your plan for completing the dissertation in a timely fashion.
During the oral defense of the prospectus, you should be prepared to present the rationale for the project; hypothesis and/or research questions, methodology of the study, what has been done on the subject, and the place of the proposed research project in the scholarly conversation.