Students usually complete their M.A. Comprehensive Exams during their last semester in the program. This is a demanding endeavor, so students may wish to take a lighter course load during that semester.
The Exam Process
The first step in the process is for the student to submit a written request to the Director of Graduate Studies for permission to sit for the exam. This is usually done sometime between the middle and the end of the semester preceding the semester during which the student will sit for the exams. Before making this request, the student will want to discuss this with his or her academic advisor, and will also want to ask another professor to serve on their M.A. committee. Upon receiving the student's request to sit for exams, the Director of Graduate Studies will ascertain whether or not the student has a reasonable prospect of success in the exams and, if so, will consult with the student regarding the members of the student's M.A. Committee.
The second step in this process is to form the student's M.A. Committee. Two members of the committee may be chosen by the student. The third member of the committee will be chosen by the Director of Graduate Studies. Committees will include faculty from at least two fields.
The third step in this process is for each member of the M.A. committee to produce three sample questions. These should be available to the student by the start of the semester during which they will sit for the exams. Each of the professors will eventually select one of the sample questions for the exam. The student will not know which one until the day of the written portion of the exam.
The Exam Itself
The actual exam is divided includes both a written and an oral portion. The written portion of the exam lasts four and a half hours and is completed without access to books or notes. During this time the student will answer three questions, including one chosen by each of the three professors on the M.A. committee. The oral exam is usually held approximately a week later and lasts up to two hours. During this time the professors on the student's M.A. committee may ask any questions related to the student's course of study, but often choose to focus on the topics covered in the written exam.
Under normal circumstances, students will learn the outcome of the exam immediately following the oral portion of the exam.
Prepare for the Exam
Students are encouraged to consult with their M.A. committee members about how to prepare for their exam throughout this process. Students are strongly encouraged to consult with professors about how to prepare answers to their questions. They may also wish to continue these consultations as they develop answers to the questions. Students may also consult with professors during the interlude between their written and oral exams.
Students who do not pass the M.A. comprehensive exam on the first attempt may sit for the exam again during the subsequent semester.