8. Field Examinations

The exams are based upon reading lists of approximately 50 titles that students develop with their three-member exam committee. The reading list aims to balance primary and secondary titles. The preparation for the exam enables students to gain reasonable “mastery” of a given field, understood as the competence necessary to teach, conduct research, and possibly publish within this area. The expectation is for primary texts to be read in the original language. Non-native speakers of English must write and defend at least their first exam in English.

  1.  First Qualifying Exam
  • For MA/PhD students only: 50-page essay, based on a reading list of about 50 titles, and oral defense. The exam will be graded in the following way: High Pass / Pass / Pass with revisions / No Pass. Passing this requirement confers the MA degree, and students who have earned an MA in this way will then proceed to the Second Qualifying Exam.
  • For PhD students: Field Survey Essay: 35-page essay, based on a reading list of about 50 titles.

In both cases, successful completion of the written portion of the First Qualifying exam is followed by an oral defense. The oral lasts no longer than 90 minutes. Its primary purpose is to demonstrate a breadth of knowledge within the chosen field. The oral defense can range widely in the field and reading list (i.e., questions can be not only on the topics/texts covered in the paper but also on other texts from the reading list). Students must pass both the written and the oral to pass the field exam. The exam will be graded in the following way: High Pass / Pass / Pass with revisions / No Pass (see below for further guidelines about the exam).

  1. Second Qualifying Exam: an essay suitable for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, about 20-25 pages. This essay may be a reworked version of a seminar paper. The purpose of this exercise is to prepare students for the process of publishing scholarship in a peer-reviewed journal. The committee will provide feedback in writing or orally, including suggestions for changes that would improve the chances of publication, recommendations for journals, etc.
  2. Third Qualifying Exam: The third exam focuses on a field different from the first qualifying exam. It may take the form of either:

A. Syllabus preparation: the purpose of the syllabus exercise is to familiarize students with a pedagogical approach to their field. The student creates one quarter or semester-long syllabus with the course description (course level, topic, key concepts), learning outcomes, specific readings with justification for each choice; or,

B. Question-based short essays of 25-30 pages in total, in which the student responds to 3 out of 3-6 questions provided by the three-member committee. The student will have two weeks to write the essays, and the exam will be graded in the following way: High Pass / Pass / Pass with revisions / No Pass. An oral defense is optional but not required. (See below for additional guidelines on the written exams).

Regular guidance and feedback from the exam committee is highly recommended for both exam options. Students will develop the reading list and the topic in close consultation with their committee. If choosing option A (syllabus), students will also rely on various pedagogical resources available on campus.

Students can retake each field exam (either or both parts) only once.

8.3. Field Exam Committees

All three field exam committees must have a minimum of three UC ladder faculty, two of whom (including the Chair) must be from the home department (i.e. must be affiliated to Comparative Literature). See the list of our affiliated faculty on our web site. We also will affiliate colleagues who will work with you. In case you need to appoint another UC professor as co-chair of your committee, here is the Graduate Division's regulation: www.graddiv.ucsb.edu/academic/committees

“At the department’s discretion, an Academic Senate Member from another UC may be nominated to serve as a committee member or co-chair (not as sole chair). Only one of the first three committee members can be from another UC. The UC faculty member may count as one of the two required tenure-track faculty members, but cannot count as a home-department member. The Master's Form I or Doctoral Form I must include the faculty member's name, UC campus, department, and academic title.”

8.4. Exam Procedures: guidelines for students and committees


1. Student chooses the quarter during which the field exam will be taken.  See 6.2 and 7.2.2. above for the time limits.

2. Student chooses the Chair of the exam committee in consultation with the Faculty Graduate Advisor. Student chooses two other members of the exam committee in consultation with the Chair of the exam committee and the Faculty Graduate Advisor.

3. Student meets the Chair of the exam committee early on in the process to determine the area that the exam will cover, the type of exam chosen, materials for the reading list, and a schedule for taking the exam. This meeting should take place as early as possible, preferably in the quarter preceding the field exam quarter, or at the beginning of the exam quarter at the latest.

4. At the beginning of the field exam quarter, the student meets individually with each of the three field examiners to discuss the lists, topic(s), and strategies for completing the exam. (The student should make sure to contact the examiners by the end of week one in order to set up these appointments.)  Once all three examiners have agreed on the list’s final form, the student should circulate the Reading List/Abstract Approval Form for their signatures.

5. Once the Reading List/Abstract Approval Form has been signed, the student submits the form, along with the reading list and abstract (outlining the chosen field, the topic, its articulation within the student’s larger interests and/or dissertation, the type of exam chosen and a schedule for completing the exam) to the Graduate Program Assistant for filing, cc’ing the Graduate Advisor. 

6. Student submits the exam to the exam committee by the 8th week of the quarter chosen to write the exam.

7. For the first qualifying exam, once the student has successfully passed the written part, the oral examination will be scheduled. Upon completion of the oral exam, the committee will sign the Field Exam Approval form, available at:
www.complit.ucsb.edu/graduate-program/forms-travel-support, and the student will submit the Field Exam Approval form to the Staff Graduate Advisor (the Graduate Program Assistant). 

8. For the second and third field exam an oral is optional only, not required. The student will complete the Field Exam Approval form, have it signed by the committee, and submit it to the Staff Graduate Advisor along with the exam.

9. Any field exam may be retaken only once.

• Information on the exam format for the committee members:

- The first qualifying exam includes a written and an oral component. The written part should be about 35 pages (double-spaced) in length, and about 50 pages in the case of an MA thesis. On rare occasions, the committee may wish to request revisions to the essay prior to allowing the student to proceed to the oral part of the exam. No more than one set of revisions may be requested.  If the written exam is given a Pass, the student will prepare a 90-minute oral exam, which should address both the arguments made in the essay and the knowledge of the overall field based on the reading list. The oral exam is a chance for the committee to ask the student to expand on issues raised in the written exam, as well as address other works from the reading list.

- For the third exam, option B (Question-based short essays), the committee members will draft one or two questions each. The GPA will collect and send the questions to the student, with a copy to the Chair. If the exam falls during a weekend or holiday, the Chair or Faculty Advisor will send the exam questions to the student. The student will choose three questions out of a maximum of six. The student has two weeks to write the responses, using all or any resources desired (open book, unproctored). The questions should allow the student to display both coverage of the reading list and rigorous analytical and theoretical skills. The total length of the exam is about 25-30 pages, double-spaced. In no case should the answers to the questions total less than 25 pages. The exam will be graded in the following way: High Pass / Pass / Pass with revisions / No Pass.

- Committee feedback on the Second and Third Qualifying Exams. An oral defense for exams #2 and 3 is optional rather than mandatory, but the committee is expected to give detailed feedback on the student’s performance, whether orally or in writing. 

- For all three exams, in order to optimize the evaluation process, it is useful for the committee members to have some advance discussion among themselves about the pedagogical and scholarly merits of the student’s exam. A successful exam will be built around a cogent argument and demonstrate mastery of the reading list, although the relative importance of these two criteria will vary from case to case.