Qualifying Exam

During the final semester of coursework, students compile two reading lists with two committee members for the qualifying exam (each member oversees one field list). At the same time, students draft a prospectus with a research bibliography with the committee chair. To assemble an exam committee, students should first select an adviser who will then assist them in adding two additional faculty members from the English Department. The DGS also can assist students with exam committee formation. 

When ready, students sit for written exams prepared by the relevant facutly members. Then the entire committee meets a week after the written exam to discuss the reading lists and prospectus with the student. Pending possible revision, the prospectus is then formally submitted. 

Qualifying Exams Checklist


Qualifying Exams Checklist


Put together two lists of 20-25 titles in consultation with the corresponding committee members. Get these members’ approval and signatures and file signed lists with Lydia Starling.


Work on a list of readings for your prospectus. Begin conferring with your committee chair regularly while drafting your prospectus.


Complete your reading lists and secure approval from your committee members that you’re ready to sit for the exams.


Complete your prospectus and get your chair’s approval for the exams to move forward. Schedule the exam dates.


Circulate the completed prospectus at least one week prior to the written exams.


Sit for the written exams—a process that takes at least 4 hours to complete.


One week later, sit for the oral examination with the entire committee. Process takes 2-3 hours usually.

General Areas for the Qualifying Examination

General Knowledge Areas for the Qualifying Examination (these are examples; other fields can be proposed—contact the director of graduate studies if you have questions):

19th-Century American Literature Victorian Literature
20th-Century American Literature  20th-Century British Literature
African American Literature   Caribbean Literature
Old and Middle English Literature Irish Literature
English Renaissance Literature  Literary Theory
17th-Century English Literature      Postcolonial Literatures
18th-Century English Literature     Contemporary Literatures
Digital Humanities  Queer Theory and Literatures


ProTip: These lists should resemble the fields in which job searches are conducted (consult the MLA Job Information List). It is inadvisable to make these lists too narrow in scope or to turn all your lists into one mega dissertation list.  Qualifying exams test your mastery of a broad field, not your adeptness at a research project (that’s the dissertation game). Defer to your committee members when they advise you on fields.