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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences


The Composition and Cultural Rhetoric Doctoral Program (CCR)

Current Students: Exams (revised 2010)


The comprehensive examination is made up of four parts and is intended to serve multiple purposes. The comprehensive exam asks students to demonstrate broad knowledge based in Composition and Rhetoric. The comprehensive exam marks the transition from coursework to the individualized research students need to begin work on the dissertation. In addition to moving students toward the completion of the dissertation, the comprehensive exam is also intended to prepare students to write for publication. The comprehensive exam includes written components in three parts and an oral component. In addition to the information provided about the exam process on this page, the Graduate Committee has prepared an FAQ page that addresses specific questions raised about exams.

Exam Timeline

All parts of the comprehensive exam should be taken within a year of finishing course work and follow the timeline below:

  • On or before October 30th—Major exam reading list is posted
  • On or before August 7th at the end of the second year of study—Students receive major exam questions and have two weeks (seven days for each exam) to complete the take-home exam
  • No later than May 15th before the end of the third year of study—Students complete parts two and three of the comprehensive exam and take the oral component

If students need to extend their exam timeline due to extenuating circumstances, such as illness or emergency situations, they may petition the Graduate Committee. The Graduate Committee will review the petitions and any extensions will be made based on the Graduate Committee's discretion.

Under the overall coordination of a Chair and Reader, students will work on the second and third parts of the exam. These two parts may be related and connected to one another but they do not have to be. The major exam is supervised by the Major Exam Committee (see below). The second and third parts of the exam are supervised by a Chair and a Reader of the student's choice. The Graduate Director oversees the entire exam process.


To qualify to take exams, students need to complete required course work, including at least 3 credits of 887, or independent study.

Forming and Working with an Examining Committee

Every student will have an examining committee consisting of a chair responsible for working closely with the student on the submission ready article/book chapter and coordinating parts two and three of the exams, a Reader who has agreed to read the exams and offered feedback, and an Outside Reader from the major exam committee who will read the finished products, for a total three faculty members, at least two of whom are CCR faculty. Students need to approach the faculty they are interested in working with and ask them to participate.

Part One: Core Reading List Major Exam

The take home major exam is based upon a broad sense of the historical and current issues framing the field of composition and rhetoric. The reading list consists of forty works where four articles/chapters are considered approximately equal one book/work.The reading list is common to all students in the program. While portions of the list will be covered in core courses, it is also the responsibility of students to study the list on their own. It is provided by the faculty and drawn from the core courses. The major exam questions will be distributed to the students on or before August 7 at the end of their second year of course work. Professors teaching the core courses also compile the questions for the exam. These professors make up the Major Exam Committee. Students will write two 4000-6000-word take-home essays in response to a total of four faculty generated. The Graduate Director and Graduate Coordinator will schedule the seven-day exam periods for each of the two exams for all second-year students. The students will be allowed to do research on each question and write a response essay off campus within a seven-day period for each. The major exam process should be completed before the orientation period begins at the end of August. The Major Exam Committee will grade the questions. Once students pass this phase of the exam process they can move on to parts two and three. Students who do not pass the major exam are allowed one retake, which they must complete by January of the following year. Students who do not pass the second exam will no longer be considered enrolled in the program, though they will keep their assistantship/fellowship for the remainder of the academic year.

Core Reading List Exam FAQ

Major Exam Committee (Summer 2018): Agnew, Brooke, Kennedy, Martinez, Nordquist, Scott
Major Exam Committee (Summer 2019): Agnew, Berry, Brooke, Martinez, Nordquist

Part Two: Submission-Ready Journal Article or Submission-Ready Book Chapter

Working with a Chair and a Reader, students will prepare an article that is suitable for publication as a journal article or book chapter either by revising a seminar paper or conference paper or, under special circumstances, writing an entirely new paper. Students should include with the paper a writer's memo that details which refereed journal the paper is intended for and that includes the journal's publication guidelines. If the student is submitting a book chapter, the student should attach the official call for papers (CFP). The submitted paper must follow all the publication guidelines for the approved journal or CFP.

Part Three: Annotated Bibliography

Students will complete an annotated bibliography based on their research area. The annotated bibliography should relate to an issue of significance in the field. This issue should in some way be related to the research and work that the student anticipates doing for the dissertation. Students will also include an introductory statement that situates the bibliography and explains why the student included the works and how they speak to one another and the student's larger project. The exam should be a comprehensive treatment of the research and scholarship and should function as an implicit argument for the relevance of the selected literature. The exam provides the student with the opportunity to situate his or her own work in this area within the discipline and serves as a segue into the dissertation. The annotated bibliography should be a list of twenty to twenty-five key works (four articles/essays equal one work) that includes short (one- two- paragraph) annotations that detail and discuss the potential relevance of each entry to the future research project.

Ideally, the three parts of this exam should be completed in the fall semester of the student's third year. At least two faculty members, the chair and reader, should sign off on part two and three of the exam.

Oral Exams

Students should schedule to take the oral exam within two weeks after being authorized to proceed to the oral exam by the chair and reader. The oral, approximately two hours long, will cover the submission-ready article/book chapter and the annotated bibliography. The oral exam will include the chair, reader, and one outside reader from the Major Exam Committee. The oral exam should ideally take place at the end of the fall semester so that the student has the spring semester to work on the dissertation prospectus.

In order to retain funding for the fourth year, students must complete their exams by no later than May 15 of the third year.