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MSU Home :: Academics :: English :: Description

In order to graduate with a Masters degree in English, graduate students must complete a comprehensive exam over a set British and American texts that span a number of literary periods and genres. The first twelve titles form a permanent list; the last three rotate on a three-year basis.

The three-hour written exam is divided into three distinct sections: “British,” “American” and “Other” (a general category which may ask students to compare and contrast literary works from different national traditions). Students must select a question from each section and answer those (three) questions as fully as they can in the time allowed. Specific questions will require close readings of individual works as well as knowledge of those texts’ major historical, generic, and theoretical contexts.

Exams are scheduled from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.* on the third Friday of April and the first Friday of November of every academic year. Students have the option of either traveling to MSU’s campus on the announced date of the exam or arranging with the graduate coordinator for a proctored exam at an institution close to home. For more on proctored exams, including approval forms and guidelines, click here. For answers to the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the exam,click here. 

Eligible students**   should contact the graduate coordinator a full 4 weeks prior to the test date. Those who will be taking the exam at a location other than MSU should also submit the proctoring paperwork a full 4 weeks in advance to give the coordinator enough time to vet and approve proctors. (Students who reside out of the country should submit paperwork 6 weeks in advance to allow the coordinator and proctor time to work out a mutually agreeable testing window.) Students who do not submit the appropriate paperwork by the 4-week (or, in the case of out-of-country students, 6-week) deadline, or who do not put forward approvable proctors, will not be eligible to sit for the exam.

*The exact time, of course, will be dependent on each student’s time zone. Students in the contiguous United States will take the exam from 9-12 EST, CST, MST, or PST. Those outside of the contiguous United States must contact the coordinator 6 weeks in advance to work out a mutually agreeable testing time.

**Eligible students are those students who have completed a minimum of 24 hours towards the degree and maintained a GPA of 3.0 or higher.  Please note that there are no exceptions to these eligibility requirements.  


Permanent MA Exam Reading List

Chaucer, Geoffrey Selections from The Canterbury Tales (1387-1400) 
    The Knight’s Tale 
    The Nun’s Priest’s Prologue and Tale 
    The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale 
    The Franklin’s Prologue and Tale 
    The Miller’s Prologue and Tale 
    The General Prologue 
    The Merchant’s Prologue, Tale, and Epilogue 
    The Prologue and Tale of Sir Thopas 
    The Canon’s Yeoman’s Prologue and Tale
Shakespeare, William Hamlet (1601)
Donne, John Songs and Sonnets (1633; 1635)
Milton, John Paradise Lost (1667; 1674)
Wordsworth, William and Samuel T. Coleridge. The Lyrical Ballads. (1802)
 Hawthorne, Nathaniel Scarlet Letter (1850)
Eliot, George Middlemarch (1871-72)
Melville, Herman Moby Dick (1851)
Eliot, T.S. The Waste Land (1922)
Dickinson, Emily Selected Poems (1924) 
    “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant” 
    “Success is counted sweetest” 
    “I heard a fly buzz when I died—“ 
    “Because I could not stop for Death” 
    “Wild Night! Wild Nights! 
    “I taste a liquor never brewed” 
    “I Felt a Funeral, in my Brain” 
    “My Life had stood—a Loaded Gun” 
    “I dwell in Possibility” 
    “The Soul selects her own Society—“
Beckett, Samuel Waiting for Godot (1948)
Morrison, Toni Beloved (1987)

Three additional authors for Fall 2014- Spring 2017 Rotation

Brooks, Gwendolyn: “The Mother,” “We Real Cool,” “The Bean Eaters,” “Sadie and Maude,” “To the Diaspora,” “First Fight, Then Fiddle,” “The Chicago Defender Sends a Man to Little Rock,” “A Bronzeville Woman Loiters in Mississippi. Meanwhile a Mississippi Mother Burns Bacon,” “Bronzeville Woman in a Red Hat”

Nabokov, Vladimir:  Pale Fire

Pope, Alexander:  The Rape of the Lock


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