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Exam Description


To graduate with a Master's degree in English, graduate students must complete a comprehensive exam over a set of 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.

Written Exam

During this three-hour written exam, students must select a question from each of three distinct sections and answer those 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. The three sections are:

  • British
  • American
  • Other - a general category that may ask students to compare and contrast literary works from different national traditions

Exam Schedule

Students have the option of either traveling to the Morehead 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 answers to the most frequently asked questions about the exam, check our FAQ.

  • 9 a.m. to noon (students' local time zone)
  • Spring - third Friday of April
  • Fall - first Friday of November

Eligible students (those who have completed a minimum of 24 hours toward the degree and maintained a GPA of 3.0 or higher) should contact the graduate coordinator a full four weeks prior to the test date. Those who will be taking the exam at a location other than the Morehead main campus should also submit the proctoring paperwork a full four weeks in advance to give the coordinator enough time to vet and approve proctors. Students who reside out of the country should submit paperwork six weeks in advance to allow the coordinator and proctor time to work out a mutually agreeable testing window. Students who do not submit their paperwork by the appropriate deadline or who do not put forward approvable proctors will not be eligible to sit for the exam.

Permanent 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, 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)


  • Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth (1905)
  • Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
  • Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun (1959)

Contact Us

Department of English & Modern Languages

111 Breckinridge Hall
Morehead, KY 40351

PHONE: 606-783-9448