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 36 credits of coursework, typically completing their coursework during the exam semester. (The exam itself does not count for course credit.) Students who have already completed their coursework will need to register for 1 credit of IDS 900/Continuation Credits during the exam semester; see the Graduate Handbook and FAQ page for instructions. 

Eligibility and Registration

To take the comprehensive exam, you must be a matriculated student who has completed or is in the process of completing 30 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 by Week 4 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 a three-hour written exam, completed on campus in November or April, and a take home portion, the Literature Review, submitted one month prior to the on-campus portion.

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, each 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 2020 Semester Exam

Registration deadline - March 31, 2020
Literature Review deadline - October 16
On-Campus Exam – Saturday, November 14

Spring 2021 Semester Exam
Registration deadline – September 4, 2020
Literature Review Deadline – March 12
On-Campus Exam – April 10


 The English Master's Thesis

M.A. or M.S. students who wish to write a thesis complete 30 semester hours of coursework and register for 6 thesis credit hours (ENG 590). Students may apply to write 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 an application and initial proposal to write a thesis, approved by the department Graduate Committee; an official prospectus, which must be approved by the thesis advisor and second reader and submitted to the Graduate School; and 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 15 (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:
Theses must be approved by the student’s committee and submitted to the university (via ProQuest) typically by the last week of April (for spring graduation) or the last week of November (for fall graduation). See the School of Graduate and Professional Studies for current deadlines.