English Master’s Exam and Thesis

Each student completing the M.A. or M.S. in English at Southern completes one of two capstones for the degree: the Masters Comprehensive Exam, or the Masters Thesis.

The English Master's Comprehensive Exam

The Graduate Written Comprehensive Exam is the standard capstone project for the Master's Degree in English (M.A. or M.S.). All matriculated students are automatically placed on the exam track, unless they apply separately to write a thesis.

Students taking the exam take 30 credits of coursework, typically completing their coursework during the exam semester. (The exam itself does not count for course credit.)

All MA and MS exam candidates should complete the exam by their final semester of degree credits (30 credits). They must apply with the university to graduate in that semester.

Students wishing to postpone their exam to a semester following the expiration of their 30-credit degree program must contact the Graduate Coordinator by the exam registration deadline of the semester prior to their last semester of degree credits to discuss their options. 

Eligibility and Registration

To take the comprehensive exam, you must be a matriculated student who has completed or is in the process of completing 27 credits with a 3.0 average. M.A. candidates need to have completed the foreign language requirement.  Although all students are automatically placed on the exam track, you must register, or declare your intention, to take the exam at the beginning of the semester prior to that in which you plan to complete the degree.

To register for the exam, complete the Comprehensive Exam Registration Form and return a scanned or hard copy to the Graduate Coordinator.  

Overview of the Exam

The comprehensive exam consists of two components: a timed exam in November or April (administered via Blackboard), and a pre-exam "lit review" - or bibliographic essay - due one month prior. 

The exam is based on a list of eight-ten primary texts covering representative periods, authors, and genres of English literary studies, including one collection of lyric poetry and one work of literary theory. A different exam list is issued each academic year, thematically based to help you draw connections and demonstrate what you've learned across works and periods.

For complete information on the contents of the exam, its structure, evaluation, and a sample question, contact the Graduate Coordinator for a copy of the Master's Exam Packet. 

Dates and Deadlines:

Fall 2022 Semester Exam

Registration deadline - April 11, 2022
Literature Review deadline - October 17, 2022
Exam – November 17-20, 2022

Spring 2023 Semester Exam
Registration deadline – September 15, 2022
Literature Review Deadline – March 20, 2023
Exam – April 20-23, 2023


 The English Master's Thesis

M.A. or M.S. students who wish to write a thesis complete 24 semester hours of coursework and register for 6 thesis credit hours (ENG 590). All thesis candidates should apply to graduate in their last semester of graduate credits. 

Students may apply to begin a thesis after they have finished a minimum of 15 credits. The production of the thesis typically takes from nine months to a year and consists of (1) an application and initial project proposal for permission to write a thesis, approved by the department Graduate Committee; (2) an official thesis proposal, which must be approved by the thesis advisor and second reader and submitted to the English Department for acceptance during ENG 590; and (3) multiple drafts of the thesis itself, which the student revises after consulting with the advisor and second reader.

Guide to Writing a Thesis 

For instructions on writing the masters thesis, including information on the application and proposal process, deadlines, and links to Graduate School forms, see:  

Guide to Writing a Thesis in English (PDF)

Dates and Deadlines:

Applying to Write a Thesis:
April 30 (for theses beginning in the fall semester) or November 10 (for theses beginning in the spring semester)

Registering for Thesis Credits:
To register for thesis credits (ENG 590), or to re-register for a second semester, submit the English Masters Thesis Registration Form to the Graduate Coordinator by the last day of the semester prior. 

Thesis Proposal:
By the end of the 8th week of the semester (for those writing the thesis over two semesters of ENG 590) or by the end of the 4th week of the semester (for those writing the thesis in one semester of ENG 590)

Final Submission:

A complete draft of the thesis is due to the committee by the Monday of the twelfth week of the semester in which the student intends to graduate. Upon receipt, the faculty advisor should notify the Graduate Coordinator to confirm a scheduled date for a Final Committee Review. The “Final Committee Review” is not a formal defense but rather an informal review and discussion of the outcomes of the thesis, which may take one of several forms, based on the decision of the faculty advisor and committee. For further details, see the Englishthesis guide.

The final, correctly formatted draft of the thesis and signed English Master's Thesis Acceptance Form is due to the Graduate Coordinator by the Monday of finals week. Once the candidate has been notified that their formatted thesis is satisfactorily received, they must file a copy of the thesis with the university via ProQuest.