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The Composition and Cultural Rhetoric Doctoral Program (CCR)

Current Students: Comprehensive Written Qualifying Examinations FAQ

This document is intended as a companion to the page outlining the revised Comprehensive Written Qualifying Examinations in the CCR program. While that page outlines official department policy regarding the exams, this page is intended as a place where frequently asked questions about the process can be answered. If you have a question about that process that is not answered here, please contact the Director of Graduate Studies.


What is the relationship among the three written parts of the exam?

Part 1 (Major Exam) asks you to review coursework (and those works on the Major Exam reading list). You will be preparing a submission-ready journal article or book chapter for Part 2, and an annotated bibliography for Part 3. Although there may be overlap among these three parts, such connections are not required.

Should the three parts be completed in order?

Not necessarily. All students will take Part 1 at the same time, but otherwise, there is no set schedule for completion. And of course, all 3 Parts and the Oral Defense must be completed by the end of the third year.

When should I select my Exam Committee?

Your committee should be set no later than the first few weeks of fall semester of your 3rd year, after Part 1 has been completed. There may be reasons (CFP deadlines, e.g.) to choose members earlier; this should be done no earlier than spring semester of the second year. Choosing the committee should be done in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies.

How do I choose an Exam Committee Chair?

Given that you'll be probably be working most closely with the faculty member responsible for Part 2, that person is the logical choice to chair your Exam Committee, except in rare circumstances where this is impractical. Also bear in mind that your Chair should be CCR faculty.

Part 1 (Major Exam)

Who serves on the Major Exam Committee?

The Major Exam Committee (MEC) is composed of the Director of Graduate Studies and those faculty who have taught core courses during the previous two years. The MEC is responsible for writing the Major Exam questions, reading and assessing all of the Major Exams, and one member of the MEC will serve on your exam committee for the purpose of the Oral Defense.

When are the questions available?

The MEC meets at the end of spring semester prior to that summer's Major Exam in order to draft that year's Exam questions, but the questions themselves are not provided to students until the Exam itself in late July or August. For each of the two exams, students will be given a set of 2-3 questions, from which they will choose one to research and answer during the week for that exam.

Do the questions require outside research?

The questions themselves will emerge from issues dealt with in the core courses, but may require students to draw on works from the shared reading list other than those taught in a particular course. Research beyond the reading list is not expected, nor should it be necessary in order to produce a successful exam.

How is the Exam period scheduled?

The Director of Graduate Studies will consult with the Writing Program to ensure that the 2-week Exam period can be completed prior to any orientation (670, University, etc.) activities in August.

Is it possible to do practice exams and/or get feedback prior to the Major Exams?

When it drafts the Exam questions, the MEC will also draft 1-2 practice questions. Interested students can practice the exam process; however, in order to provide adequate time for reading and responding to them, practice questions must be completed no later than the end of June. Prior summer commitments may prevent the full MEC from reading and responding, but available committee members will provide students with written and/or oral feedback.

Part 2 (Submission-ready Journal Article or Book Chapter)

Should Parts 2 & 3 be on the same topic?

There may be advantages to doing so, but this is not necessary. Part 3 (see below) is well suited to preliminary research on a dissertation topic, but there are scenarios where it may make sense to write your essay/chapter/article on a different topic. For example, the opportunity to revise a seminar paper for a particular CFP may present itself, or you may be interested in establishing a secondary area of interest through publication.

What if there are no CFPs that interest me?

The primary advantage of topic-specific CFPs, obviously, is a built-in audience/interest for your work. But there is nothing wrong with submitting directly to a journal. In either case, you are responsible for understanding the submission guidelines as well as the particular interests, focus, and tone of the journal (or press in the case of an edited collection).

When should I start working on Part 2?

We assume that you will be working formally on Parts 2 & 3 during your third year, but informal work may begin on it towards the end of your second year. You are not "behind" if you wait until after the Major Exam, however. CFP deadlines may make waiting until then problematic.

Do I have to submit the article/chapter to receive credit for Part 2?

No. Part 2 should be deemed "submission-ready" by your Exam Committee, but the responsibility for actual submission is yours. If deadlines require you to submit it for publication prior to the completion of the Exam process, this should be done only in explicit consultation with your Committee.

How often should I meet with my Exam Chair during Part 2?

This is something that you'll want to work out explicitly with your Chair. We recommend that you stay in regular contact (meetings every 1-2 weeks). Additionally, the Director of Graduate Studies will schedule at least one conference with both you and your Chair during the fall semester to check on your progress.

May I compose a completely new essay for this part?

Program policy strongly recommends that you use prior work (seminar paper, conference presentation, e.g.) for Part 2, and revise it for publication. At the very least, you should have done significant reading and/or research already in an area if you plan on drafting a new essay. You should consult with your Exam Chair and the Director of Graduate Studies before embarking on this particular path.

Part 3 (Annotated Bibliography)

How does Part 3 segue into the dissertation?

At the very least, your annotated bibliography should provide you with the raw materials for much of the contextualization necessary for the dissertation, in a literature review chapter, for example. Your introductory essay might provide the basic outline for such a chapter.

What if Part 3's topic differs from Part 2's? How does that affect my committee?

If you are working primarily with your Exam Chair on Part 2, but are working in a different area for your dissertation, it makes sense to select a Reader for your Committee who can provide you with specific assistance on your Annotated Bibliography.