In the English PhD program at the CUNY Graduate Center there are two required comprehensive exams: one written and one oral. The written exam is given every August and it is necessary to pass this exam to graduate to Level II status as a doctoral student in the program. The test consists of four essays; three written on the test day, including two 90-minute responses, and one 3 1/2 hour response, and one essay written at home. The essay prompts that are administered on the day of the exam specifically address the close reading of poetry, and thematic approaches to literature within a specific period, movement, or author. Furthermore, the exam asks the taker to incorporate texts published both before and after the year 1800. The essay written in preparation for the exam must also include established forms of literary theory and criticism. This is quite the undertaking for one student to tackle in isolation! Therefore, in following the advice of our department website, and the guidance of those wise students who have passed this exam, we decided to form a summer study group.
The idea is simple; since we are all friends, we all need to take the same test, and we all have different strengths, we want to spend the summer learning from each other. This would be enjoyable even if there wasn’t a high-stakes test at the end (gulp!). Our plan is basically to read, blog, discuss, write, and workshop. This comes naturally to most of us, and will not only be good practice for the exam, it is also good preparation to engage in scholarship within our field as students, teachers, and researchers.
Although our core group consists of six students who have planned and plotted this course, anyone can come to meetings (including virtual participants via Skype or gchat), anyone can comment on the blog, and anyone can follow our method by doing the reading and forming their own discussion groups. Our hope is that this blog will not only be helpful for us and our cohort, but will also serve as a guide for future cohorts hoping to conquer the comprehensives…
and so as they “in bocca al lupo!”