Preparing for Examinations

A student's preparation for his or her M.A. comprehensive exams or Doctoral Qualifying Examinations (DQE) entails several elements that comprise a partnership, of sorts, between the student and the faculty members responsible for examining the student. In preparing for M.A. comprehensive exams, students should work toward an understanding of the historical narrative (factual orientation) and a broad command of the historiography of their subject areas. The examination will test the student's knowledge of the significant issues and trends in the subject fields along with a familiarity with some of the major historians. More is expected of Ph.D. students, however. They will be expected to go beyond demonstrating their knowledge of facts and major trends in historiography to synthesizing secondary sources and thinking critically about the historians they have studied.


DQE Preparation

Preparing for the DQE begins virtually the moment a student enters the program, with the selection of courses for the student's first semester, the search for a doctoral advisor, and the selection of an examining committee. Since it is vital that students have at least one class with every committee member and at least two with the doctoral committee chair, the chair ideally should be chosen no later than the midway point of the student's second semester in the program. The remainder of the doctoral committee should be selected and their willingness to serve on the committee should be established by the end of that second semester.

Taking Pertinent Colloquia

An important element in the preparation process is taking the pertinent colloquia (HIST 6235, HIST 6240, HIST 6245, HIST 6250, HIST 6110, HIST 6115, HIST 6120 and HIST 6125), which serve as "foundation courses" for most of the major and minor fields offered to M.A. and Ph.D. students. These courses are intended as more than cognates for the exam fields. They should serve as introductions to the chronological and topical fields with which the instructors are most familiar and in which they have done most of their research. There should be two components to the colloquia: 1) exposure to the broadest possible body of historiographical literature, with reading assignments equivalent to at least one book per week, and 2) substantial written assignments, which will encourage students not only to read books but to articulate their own ideas about them.

Although all classes should help prepare both M.A. and Ph.D. students for their examinations, course work alone is not sufficient to prepare students for exams. In fact, each faculty member has his or her own ideas about the appropriate ways for students to prepare for examinations and about a faculty member's appropriate role in that preparation.

Meet DQE Committee Members

Upon a faculty member's agreeing to serve on a DQE committee, the student should meet with him or her to clarify how to prepare for the examination. The committee member should make it clear to the student what sorts of preparation will be necessary before the examination is taken. For instance, if the professor is comfortable providing a reading list that covers all of the necessary material, he or she should do so in a timely fashion. If the student has taken several courses with the committee member, it should be made clear whether or not the material covered in those courses provides adequate coverage. Short of a reading list, faculty members should offer suggestions about possible additional topics or readings that goes well beyond simply telling a student to become familiar with the historiography of 20th century US or to read all the student can about the history of the Catholic Church. Some guidance is required; indeed, it is implicit in the faculty's roles as teachers and advisors to guide students through the exam process.

The chair of a DQE committee may convene the rest of the committee to talk about possible avenues of questioning and to propose certain approaches for students to follow in preparing for the exam. It is also vital that the student confer with each member of the committee during the semester prior to the exam, to make sure that the student and the faculty members are "on the same page" regarding the exam.

Additional Information

A further aid to students' preparation—and to faculty members' writing fair yet demanding questions—will be the file of sample reading lists and syllabi from the colloquia kept in the Department office. (For more on the DQEs, see the Faculty Procedures for DQEs)