Past Events

Major Field Exam

The major exam is comprised of both a written and an oral examination. The written portion of the major exam from all subfields will be given on the same day, typically one week after the minor exam. The oral portion of the exam is normally scheduled within two weeks of the written exam. Students cannot pass or fail the major exam based on the written portion of the exam alone; both the written and oral portions of the exam matter. [If, however, (a) all three members of the reading committee agree that the written portion of the exam is of such poor quality that it cannot possibly be "saved" by an oral exam, and (b) the student concurs, then the oral portion of the exam need not be taken.] Questions on the major exam should be field-integrative: that is, they should ask students to go beyond the material that was covered in any particular seminar they may have taken.

The written portion of the major exam lasts 12 hours, and may be taken anywhere. Questions and completed essays are distributed and can be turned in via email. Students can use any aids they want during the written exam, including books, articles, electronic versions of notes, pre-written exam answers, and whatever printed documents they can find on the internet. The only thing that is not permitted is help from other people, including email messages written during the exam. Students have none of these aids available to them during the oral exam, however. Examiners typically ask a student to elaborate on his or her responses from the written exam, to probe the student's ability to defend and elaborate his or her ideas in greater depth and detail. But the oral exam may also ask a student questions from the written exam that the student had not answered and/or other general questions about the subfield. As with the minor exam, students must submit an electronic (Word or Word Perfect) version of their essays to the graduate office when they turn in their major exam.