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Comprehensive Area Exam

No later than the final week in November, the student consults the graduate coordinator to determine the constitution of the overall area exam committee based upon the plan of research and study for the dissertation.

The committee, including the dissertation supervisor and two other members with expertise in one or more of the areas the student wishes to pursue, is selected by the student, with the assistance of the supervisor and the graduate officer, by January of term 2.

One overarching area of study — genre, period, movement, nation, theory — is chosen by the student for the purpose of developing a recognized teachable and to form a general background for the specialization. This constitutes the Comprehensive Area Exam (CAE).

Reading List

The reading list for the CAE will be provided by the department from a series of set lists updated yearly to reflect changes in the discipline. It will involve 90-100 "text units," where each text unit is equal to six hours of reading.

An exact definition of “text unit” is impossible; however, a practical outline of its sense is offered in the following descriptive guidelines: a text such as Pride and Prejudice, which can be read in six hours, constitutes one “text unit,” and would form one of the readings on the list. An average feature-length film of 90-120 minutes constitutes two-thirds of a “text unit” (since films do not have a fixed length, the count is based on a viewing and reviewing of the film – approximately four hours = two-thirds of six hours).

The committee will determine the number of works equivalent to the 90-100 “text units” required because a complex theoretical article or experimental novel may take more time to read than a text such as a review article or an historical overview of a literary period or era. The committee, for example, might determine the following “text unit” values:

  • Derrida’s Of Grammatology = 18 hours of reading = three text units.
  • The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner = nine hours of reading = one and a half text units.
  • Citizen Kane = two hours of viewing = 1/3 of a text unit.

Doctoral students are expected to begin reading their CAE list as early as January of Year 1, but certainly they should devote themselves to full-time study of the list from May to December.

Set Reading Lists by Topic

Take-Home Exam

The student writes a take-home exam (of a one-week maximum duration). The exam comprises a choice of three out of five essays questions supplied by their CAE committee. Each essay should be a minimum of eight pages of double-spaced 12-point font each).

The CAE test will be distributed to the student either by email, or in print copy, as determined by the student and the CAE supervisor, and the completed exam may be submitted the same way.

The time period of one week – seven days – is as illustrated in the following example: a test sent electronically to the student at 9 a.m. on Dec. 1 should be submitted to the supervisor electronically by 9 a.m. on Dec. 8.

Supervisors are then responsible for the distribution of the test to the remaining CAE committee members, and for coordinating grading meetings and written feedback and grades to the student. Supervisors must also submit grades to the graduate coordinator before the end of the grading period that term, and the written feedback for the student’s departmental file.


The CAE is marked on a pass/fail basis.

The three essay questions will be weighted equally.

If a student fails the CAE, the student is allowed one further opportunity to rewrite the exam within two months of receiving the failed grade.


The department will make every effort to avoid conflict between TA responsibilities and the student’s CAE writing time. Students are expected to write their CAE in December.

In order to ensure that requirements, policies, and guidelines are followed, the supervisor meets with the student at least once a term in winter and spring.