Master's Exam

The master's graduation requirement (for those not writing a thesis) is an oral examination and defense of a seminar paper. Students will choose one their strongest seminar papers from a CRES course for the capstone experience and will work with the professor of that class to revise the paper, do additional reading on the topic, and defend the work at the end of the semester in which they plan to graduate. To begin the process of the MA capstone, students should contact the CRES professor who taught the seminar and ask if the faculty member would be willing to chair. In consultation with the chair, students will choose two additional committee members. The chair and student will work together to form a timeline for revising the paper. Students should complete a revised draft early in the final semester to allow sufficient time for consultations with the chair and further revisions. The chair will notify the student when the revised paper is ready to go to the committee, and from there the student can schedule the paper defense.

In addition to completing the MA paper, students will generate a reading list of 20-25 items. Many of these readings will already be listed in the bibliography of the seminar paper, but the student and chair may add additional reading items to round out the list. The list may include articles as well as books, primary as well as secondary texts. This list should place the paper's focus within the broader context of English studies/rhetoric & composition. The student will be responsible for these works during a one-hour oral defense of the paper.

To successfully complete the MA capstone requirement, students should:

  • Produce a well developed seminar paper of approximately 20-30 pages that effectively covers the topic, places it in the context of an ongoing conversation in composition-rhetoric or English studies, and has the potential to become a publishable project.
  • In the oral defense, be able to
    • 1) discuss the paper fluently, addressing broader questions about the importance of the research and its relationship to enduring debates in the field.
    • 2) demonstrate an awareness of possible venues for presentation or publication of the work.
    • 3) field questions about the reading list, showing familiarity with the individual works and understanding of how their ideas relate to the published authors'.
    • 4) discuss the pedagogical applications of the work and practical consequences/implications for teachers & scholars.

The oral defense is also an opportunity for students to talk with the committee about their experience in the program, future goals for teaching/research, and questions regarding professional or academic goals.


PhD 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 (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 on our resources page, 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. 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.