The English Department has revised the M.A. comprehensive exam format to make it more beneficial to students. Rather than have students study a prescribed list of works, the Department is implementing a more individualized format, whereby each student can pursue topics and do research in areas of particular interest. This personalized exam format requires the student to develop two reading lists of his or her own in conjunction with at least two faculty members, after which the lists must be approved by a composition faculty committee composed of three members.

Each list must be accompanied by a rationale that contextualizes the issue within the field of composition. In addition, students’ first reading list must be approved by the time they have completed 18 credit hours. That way, they will know if they are on the right track, and it will allow enough time to develop the other list in a timely manner to allow for completing the M.A. degree at Northeastern within the six-year time frame allowed (note: a student has up to six years to complete the program; it need not take that long). It would also be advisable, though not required, to take the exam on the first reading list within a semester or two of the approval.

There will be one take-home exam per reading list, scheduled by the student when ready. For each exam there will a 24-hour time limit, during which the student will be expected to write an 8-to-12-page essay (double-spaced) on one question emailed to the student on the exam date. Given the generous time limit, students will be able to carefully plan their essay, recheck sources and make specific references to the texts on their reading list; a high level of analysis and argument will be expected.

Upon completion of the three exams, students may be asked to discuss their findings in an informal oral defense.


Reading List Guidelines

  1. Students will write a one- page rationale (single-spaced) that positions their research topic historically, theoretically and/or pedagogically within the field of composition.
  2. Students are responsible for developing a first draft of their reading list before meeting with faculty.
  3. Each list should contain 12–15 sources, at least 4 of which must be book-length works.
  4. Each list should be compiled around a different specific theme or issue related to composition or rhetoric, though two different lists might focus on the same general topic. For example, one list might focus on how technology influences writing processes, whereas another reading list might focus on how audience influences writing processes.
  5. The reading lists may use specific coursework as a starting point, but that is not a requirement. If students do start with course material that piqued their interest in a particular topic, their reading list must extend well beyond what was covered in class and must be composed mostly of sources not covered previously in class.
  6. Taken as a whole, the two reading lists should demonstrate the student’s knowledge of composition theory, history and pedagogy, though the balance among those three elements will vary from student to student.