Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

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Ph.D. Comprehensive Examination

The Ph.D. Comprehensive Exam

The English department holds doctoral comprehensive examinations three times a year: once each in the late summer, late fall and late spring.


Two Major Field Written Essays* (10 pages each):
  • Theory/Concept Essay - one essay that delineates the current state of a given question, concept or theoretical tradition (e.g., critical race theory or gender and psychoanalysis), and
  • Special Topic Essay - one essay addressing a particular topic of special interest that has emerged over the course of the student’s readings in the major field.

One 2-Hour Oral Exam:

  • One hour covering the Major field, and
  • One hour covering two Minor* fields (½ hour each).
*Written essays should include footnotes or works cited. Grading will take place after the Oral portion of the exam, and the exam will be graded in its entirety, i.e., the written and oral parts will NOT be graded individually.


If you are planning on taking the Ph.D. comprehensives, it is imperative you follow the steps outlined on the Comprehensive Exam Registration Form (CERF).

All students must register BOTH through AND by completing and submitting the CERF (link above).

All students registering for the comps must have completed all requirements by or within the semester in which they plan to take the exam. Students should review their DegreeWorks Audit in to ensure their program requirements
have been, or will have been, met.

All students who have completed coursework (i.e, who not registering for any credits) and who are studying for their exam (not taking it) must register for
Requirement Prep (ENGL 0912) each semester up to the one in which they take their exam. Summer semester registration is not required.

Students must begin planning their Ph.D. Comprehensive Examinations at least one semester prior to the semester in which they take the exam. They should follow the instructions on the Comprehensive Exam Registration Form (CERF) and must show they have met all requirements in order to qualify for the exam.


Once the written essays have been submitted and the oral examination has taken place, the exam committee will grade the student’s entire exam (written and oral portions together) and will communicate the results to the student. Officially recorded grades may be high pass, pass or failure. Any grade requires the agreement of at least three of the four examiners. Students who fail the exam may retake it once, within six months of the first attempt. The first failure does not appear on a student’s transcript.

While grading essays and oral
exams is always a subjective process, certain collective evaluative norms hold true. At minimum, a passing grade requires the expression orally of a sound conceptual grasp of literary tradition, genre, and terminology, as well as evidence of a detailed familiarity with the individual works discussed. Successful students are able to respond to focused questions and to argue points with clarity, while demonstrating competence in the major and theoretical literary background.

Distinguished exams, which merit a High Pass, require a higher order of synthetic understanding, historical range, theoretical sophistication, and detailed recollection. Typically, the signature of such exams is originality—a capacity, appropriately exercised, to use the exam question as an occasion for new and provocative thinking. Clearly, the department does not expect that every exam will stand as a cutting-edge contribution, but, in assigning High Pass, we look for evidence of serious and sustained independent thinking.

Students whose exam is marginally passable will receive a departmental grade of Low Pass, which is officially recorded as a Pass, and therefore allows for a student to receive the M.
Phil. degree. Students receiving a Low Pass will not be allowed to continue work toward the Ph.D.

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