PhD Preliminary Exam

CRES doctoral students must pass both the written and oral components of the preliminary examination. Students will work with the exam committee to compile a reading list covering four topic areas in the field and will be responsible for all items on each list. A committee of three CRES faculty members will read students’ written exams and conduct the oral examination.

Creating a Reading List for the Exam

The first step in preparing for the comprehensive exam is to create a list of four exam topics. The first topic will be a general or canonical list in rhetoric-composition. The second and third areas should focus on sub-areas within the field, such as the history of writing instruction; visual rhetoric, technology, and writing; literacy studies; writing across the curriculum; basic writing, ethnography and writing research, assessment, etc. The fourth topic will normally be another area of English studies (e.g., linguistics, American literature) or another interdisciplinary area related to composition-rhetoric.

Students should consult with the committee chair to create the reading lists. Each list should be explained in a brief background statement that introduces the topic and explains its significance to the field. The explanatory statement should be followed by the bibliography, which should normally include books/monographs, articles, book chapters, and collections of essays.

Students may consult the CRES PhD Reading List document, which provides a provisional bibliography of the field. This document is a good starting point for assembling the reading list; however, it will be essential for students to look beyond the document in order to access the most recent scholarship in a given area. In addition to consulting the CRES reading list, students should also look through recent issues of the relevant journals for their topic areas.

Students must submit the final reading list no later than twelve weeks before the exam, but they are encouraged to submit it even earlier to allow ample time for preparation and study. Once students submit the final version, they should select a date and time for the exam. At least ten days before the exam, students should contact the main office to schedule a room for the written and oral portions of the exam.

The Written Component

The written preliminary examination for candidates in CRES will be four hours in duration and will require candidates to respond to two questions from four areas. The exam committee will compose the questions that constitute students’ written examination. These questions will deal with issues central to the four topic areas and may require students to look at material from a new perspective, to refocus their concerns, or to re-examine their assumptions. Students may bring their final reading list with them to the exam.

The goal is for candidates to demonstrate their ability to write with a seasoned, mature understanding of the topic, demonstrating both a conceptual grasp of the topic and the ability to identify and refer to relevant sources.

Effective responses should answer the question as fully as possible, taking the role of an expert and addressing a high-level audience that may not be well informed in the particular area. For example, experienced teachers of college composition who have not yet read the texts that candidates have studied.

Effective responses will be well organized and demonstrate an in-depth understanding of the readings.

The Oral Component

If the candidate passes the written preliminary examination, the committee will conduct an oral examination at the first convenient opportunity for both the candidate and the faculty. For the oral examination, the candidate will be responsible for material from all four topics, the two not covered on the written examination as well as the two that were. CRES candidates must pass the oral exam in order to move on to the dissertation stage.