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Comprehensive Examination and Dissertation Prospectus

Comprehensive Examination
Our PhD candidates must demonstrate a high level of competence in the field of Hispanism. The PhD comprehensive examination is designed both to further familiarize the students with literary traditions, canonical and non-canonical works, and the ample panorama of critical approaches pertinent to the specific area of their choosing, and to strengthen their skills in organizing a methodological corpus with its specific theoretical implications and maneuverings.


I. The Ph.D. examination is to consist of three separate parts:

Part 1 - Period, region, movements or genres across different periods, broadly and contextually defined (for example, 20th century Spanish narrative, Golden Age, the Baroque, Andean literature, Colonial Latin American Literature). This part of the examination requires that students define a general field within which they contextualize further research. It is important that students see this part of the examination as their “field of specialization:” it is the field with which they most identify professionally. Students are strongly encouraged to recognize the discipline is constantly changing, and define their interests according to those changes. Questions will include relevant theory.

Part 2 -Special Topic. This section of the examination will define the parameters of the dissertation topic by focusing on the specific corpus of texts identified for the research project. Questions will include relevant theory.

Theory. The reading list will include a theory section that requires students to define their critical approach and methodology. Given the broad range of critical approaches that the Graduate Faculty employs, students are encouraged to define the critical trends that inform their own work. Students therefore are expected to acquaint themselves with a critical corpus that will help them in their doctoral research. Titles from the theory list will be incorporated into questions on both parts 1 and 2 of the exam.

Part 3 - Prospectus. A prospectus should normally include 8-10 pages of text, describing the theoretical approach to be used in the dissertation, relation of the dissertation to established criticism, the corpus of texts to be studied, the fundamental questions that will guide the research, and a consideration of how the project will contribute to existing research on the topic. In addition, the prospectus should include a working bibliography with the appropriate theoretical, critical, and primary texts. The text and bibliography should follow the most recent MLA format.


II Preparation, time table, mode, design, and correction of examination

A. Preparation
1. Students, in consultation with a 3-member dissertation committee and any other faculty with pertinent expertise, draw up reading lists for Parts 1 and 2. Students are required to include a title/brief rationale (not to exceed 100 words) for the composition of the list. General guidelines follow for the composition of the reading list.
a. List for Part 1 should include 75-100 items.
b. List for Part 2 should include 30 items.
c. List of theoretical works should include 30 items.


Points of information:

  • There is to be no overlap on the lists.
  • Questions for Parts 1 and 2 prepared by 3-member dissertation committee.
  • The definition of “item” is left to the committee and may include primary or secondary texts, as well as other cultural artifacts.
  • The precise composition of the lists will vary somewhat from student to student due to the individuality of each research project. Also, given the importance of interdisciplinary background and cultural criticism for many projects, discretion is left to the committee to determine whether some texts belong on the theory list or on lists 1 and 2.


B. Design, Mode and Time Table - Non-negotiable
The individual student will have the responsibility of circulating the PhD Committee Registration Form, an agreement to make up and grade examination questions for the chosen dates and of getting signatures or e-mail messages from the three faculty members on his/her doctoral committee confirming their availability. This form is given out with the exam registration materials in September and is also available in the department.

Parts 1 and 2:

  • Students take Parts 1 and 2 during the traditional examination weeks in March.
  • Parts 1 and 2 will be take-home examinations written during two 3-day periods within 14 days, specifics depending on the committee.
  • Students will receive the questions at 9:00 a.m. on the first day designated for each part, and their completed answers must be turned in by 10:00 a.m. three days later. For example, if the questions are accessed on a Friday, the completed essays are due on the following Monday.
  • Part 1 consists of answering 4 questions out of 6; part 2 consists of answering 2 questions out of 4.
  • Parts 1 and 2 must be written in Spanish.
  • Students must pass Parts 1 and 2 before submitting the prospectus.



The prospectus must be submitted one month after the notification of passing Parts 1 and 2. It is important that students be aware that they should be working on the prospectus while preparing for the special topic questions (part 2). This one-month period should be used to refine and polish the prospectus. The prospectus may be written in English, if the dissertation is to be written in English. The student reaches ABD status only AFTER the prospectus is approved by the dissertation committee.


C. Grading Procedure
1. Four faculty members will grade each question of Parts 1 and 2. The three member examination committee will be joined by one additional faculty member for each question. This additional faculty member is appointed by the graduate director.
2. The prospectus must be submitted to and approved by the thesis director as well as the other members of the dissertation committee; it will then be circulated to other faculty members for commentary and suggestions. The candidate will receive written comments regarding the prospectus from each committee member, with the dissertation advisor copied on all feedback.
3. If any section is failed, it may be retaken in the next cycle. Also, if either parts 1 or 2 (or both) of the examination are not turned in on time, that part will be forfeited and considered failed. In accordance with the regulations of the Graduate School of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, if a student fails any section twice, he or she will be dismissed from the program.
4. A comment sheet will be distributed to graduate faculty members at the time of the grading of the doctoral examinations, in order to offer notes, suggestions, additional bibliography, or questions concerning the proposal. Copies of these comment sheets will be made available to students after the final grading of the examinations is complete.


Standards for Grading Comprehensive Examination:  
A doctoral candidate is not only a future scholar but already to be considered a scholar. A superior answer to questions on the Comprehensive Examination should therefore:

  1. Show a thorough knowledge of the fundamental scholarship on the subject in question; 
  2. Give a clear and well organized presentation of the concepts involved. All relevant factors should be taken into account. For this purpose a previously constructed outline is recommended and can be included at the beginning of the answer;
  3. Show awareness of basic contemporary approaches to literary theory;
  4. Include relationships with other literatures whenever pertinent (Comparative Literature), the cultural context, and with other disciplines such as philosophy, history, psychology, sociology, etc.

A very good answer should show knowledge of at least the very basic scholarship on the subject, and a good answer should include a minimum of information. Otherwise, the differences between a superior, a very good, and good answer depend on the completeness of the answers. For example, a very good analysis of the primary work or of a theme can compensate for deficiencies in the theoretical aspects but not for a complete lack of knowledge of secondary materials (criticism on the subject).

A good/barely passing answer would be one that shows fairly good knowledge of the primary literature but is deficient in other aspects. Poor presentation as to the organization of the material and style are also serious deficiencies. Such answers are considered unsatisfactory on the doctoral level. A very important factor is that the candidate should read carefully the wording of the questions to be aware of what is expected or required.

A failing answer is of course one that is deficient in all aspects.


Grading Policies for Doctoral Comprehensive Examinations:  
Each question is graded independently by the three dissertation committee members plus the appointed faculty member. If a faculty member assigns a failing grade (i.e., below 70%) on any question, the faculty member will submit an explanation in writing. All scores are averaged. • In order for the exam to be judged passing, the candidate’s answers must average 80% (i.e., be of B quality) or better. For the Graduate Faculty to consider awarding the honor of passing with distinction, the candidate’s answers must average 93% or above.
• If the examination average falls between 75% and 79%, the Graduate Director will call a meeting to discuss the examination and the Graduate Faculty will make a recommendation.
• If the examination average falls below 75%, the examination is considered an automatic failure.Faculty members will normally grade questions within thirty working days of the completion of the examination. The Graduate Director will then convey the results to the candidate in writing. In the case of a failure, the candidate may meet with the Director, the Chair, or other appropriate faculty to discuss the examination.

Appeals Mechanism:

Should a candidate wish to appeal the results of a comprehensive examination, thesis defense, or any other matter, that appeal should be presented in writing to the Director.  The Director will then convene the Graduate Faculty as a group for the purpose of reviewing and responding to the appeal.  Should the candidate not be satisfied with the decision of the Graduate Faculty in Spanish, he or she may then take the matter to the Dean of the Graduate School.

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