Exam Details

All History MA candidates must pass a comprehensive examination in their major and minor fields upon completion of their coursework. If they plan to prepare a thesis, curriculum project, or public history project, they must pass their comprehensive examination beforehand. The comprehensive exam evaluates students' knowledge of their coursework and their reading lists for their major, minor, and concentration. In answering their exam questions, students are expected to construct arguments and to show mastery of the historiographies, narratives, and historical content in their fields. The comprehensive exam is administered and evaluated by a committee of the major advisor, the minor advisor, and an outside reader from the History faculty.

The Exams are split into two parts:

  1. Students write responses to broad questions covering their major and minor field lists. Field advisors compose exam questions for individual students. The written exam is administered on a take-home basis over 5 days, which may include a weekend. Students answer two questions for their major field, which address both their core readings and their major field concentration. Students answer one question for their minor field. The department expects each answer to take the form of an essay of 1800-2100 words, not including bibliography, formatted in accordance with the department's style guide.
  2. Once a student finishes the written portion, the comprehensive exam committee conducts an oral exam. The oral exam, which lasts about 90 minutes, must be held within 10 days of completing the written portion of the exam.

The department offers comprehensive exams during two periods: October for the fall term and the last two weeks of February and the first two weeks of March for the spring term. All components of the comprehensive exam must be completed during the designated period. In the semester prior to taking the exam, students must register with the department to declare their intention to take the exam and set up a schedule for the written and oral portions of the exam with the department program assistant.

Students should expect to read 80-100 books combined, as well as significant articles, in their major and minor fields. Some of these books will come from students' completed coursework, but students should expect to read a significant number of additional texts for their core lists. Students are required to read at least two books for each theme in their major fields and the Core Reading List in preparation for the comprehensive exam, as well as whatever texts students and advisors negotiate for their concentration and Minor. Students preparing for comprehensive examinations should meet regularly with their major and minor field advisors to discuss their reading lists and to evaluate their readiness for the exam. If the advisors think the student has weaknesses in any field, they may suggest further readings or delaying the exam. The major field advisor will determine when the student is ready to schedule the exam. Students not enrolled in history courses at the time of their comprehensive exam must register for Candidate for Degree (see Graduate School policies).

Should the comprehensive exam committee find a student's exam unsatisfactory, the student will be asked to develop the answers in the oral exam. If the oral exam does not provide evidence of mastery in either the major or minor fields, students will be asked to write an extended essay(s) on the question(s) deemed unsatisfactory. The essay(s) will be due at the end of the semester during which the student took the comprehensive exam. At this juncture, advisors will decide whether the student has met the qualifications for the MA degree

Students taking their comprehensive exams must confirm the following:

  • My answers are the products of my own scholarship and analysis in response to the questions asked.
  • I have not pasted in or used portions of my previous work.
  • No other person has assisted me in writing these exam answers.
  • I have not copied or otherwise used another person’s unpublished scholarship, including course notes, reading notes or papers; nor have I, without proper scholarly attribution, quoted, paraphrased, or otherwise relied on any published works in preparing my examination answers.